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On assignment

Ten ways in which journalism mirrors the Christian life

Earlier this week, I spent an hour visiting via Skype with more than two dozen students at this spring’s World Journalism Institute. We talked about embracing discomfort, asking good questions, and the time a monkey hopped on my shoulder while I was covering a Ron Paul campaign event. 

I later thought about how journalistic disciplines sometimes mirror Christian disciplines. Here are 10 examples of journalistic practices that roughly translate to the Christian life: 

1. Accept assignments. 

One of the great things about writing for WORLD is the freedom to find your own stories and pursue your own interests. But sometimes, a particular story must be done, and an editor asks you to do it. Often, it’s a difficult story requiring hard work and tough skin. But we accept the assignment: The story is important, we trust our editor’s judgment, and we know he’ll back us up. 

In the Christian life, God gives us freedom to pursue our passions and desires. But sometimes, He gives us an assignment we wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves. Whether it’s a long-term illness, a tough marriage, a wayward child, a strained church, a dashed dream, a lost job, or a lost loved one: Our Savior is asking us to do it. It’s important, we trust His (perfect) judgment, and we know He’ll give us what we need to do what He asks. 

2. Pound the pavement.

Once a journalist has accepted an assignment, the next step is to pound the pavement: Make the phone calls, do the digging, write the questions, drive the miles, lose sleep, keep digging, ask more questions, write for hours, and sometimes begin that process all over again.

When God gives His children assignments, He expects us to work hard. The Bible tells us whatever we do, we should do it with all our might—even when other people have no idea how much work we’re putting into the hard relationship or the weekly menu or the children’s Sunday school class or the battle for joy and contentment.

3. Check your facts.

I still make plenty of mistakes in journalism, but I try to avoid it by fact-checking every story I write. I print each article I’ve written, and I highlight every name, word, and assertion. I force myself to check each detail, even if I’m sure I have it right. It takes a lot of time and energy, but I’m often surprised at how much I find to correct. (And how I still get things wrong.) 

In Christian living, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or make assumptions about other people (including our opponents). The Scriptures demand we take the time—and show the discipline—to speak the truth and not cut corners with the details. 

4. Listen to your editors.

No matter how much a journalist thinks he knows about the story he’s written, a fresh pair of eyes can bring crucial perspective. It can be tempting to resist or resent feedback, but sometimes outside wisdom can save our journalistic britches. 

In Christian living, God gives us other people—parents, pastors, spouses, friends—to help us see what we can’t see, and to share the wisdom we need for godly living. Instead of resisting or resenting it, we should seek it out and take it in. 

5. Listen to your critics.

Reporters do make mistakes—not just factual errors, but errors of judgment. The best journalists listen to sincere criticism and consider whether someone else is right and we’re wrong, or at least whether we could have said something in a more helpful or accurate way.

Christians need help to know when we’re sinning or making unwise choices. A large portion of the book of Proverbs is devoted to telling believers to listen to wise criticism—and not to become fools. 

6. Make corrections.

When WORLD gets something wrong, we’re committed to saying so. Most journalists dread printing corrections, but admitting an error is one of the most important parts of the job.

Christians sin every day, and the Bible invites us to confess our sin to God and find forgiveness in Christ. It also commands us to confess our sins to each other and to make it right when we’ve given or taken offense. 

7. If you don’t have the story, don’t print it. 

Sources often contact us with juicy bits of information that would bring guaranteed web traffic. Sometimes we check it out and discover it’s not true. Other times, we can’t find enough evidence to verify the information. And occasionally, we find that a story would be more of a self-serving exercise than a meaningful article that would serve others well. So, we drop it until something more develops. 

I’m convinced that one of the most urgent Christian disciplines of the 21st century is to be slow to speak. That often feels impossible in a 24/7 Twitter universe. But we can do more damage by speaking without enough information (or without enough context) than by waiting to say something more substantial and helpful. Not everything demands an instant hot take, even when the pressure to offer one can feel intense. 

8. Pursue both truth and love.

Readers sometimes wonder why we write stories that criticize other believers. There’s a lot that could be said, but here’s one principle we follow: It’s often unloving to withhold the truth in situations where other people are being harmed or endangered. 

It’s true in our Christian lives as well. In our personal circles and in our churches, we want to show mercy, but being merciful sometimes means pointing out error or sin that is harming others. When we must do this, we still ought to speak the truth in love and humility, and not in self-righteousness. 

9. Fight cynicism.

One of the great journalistic temptations is cynicism. Spend each week trudging through the muck of human experience, and even the most enthusiastic journalist can grow hardened.

Believers can grow hardened too. We sometimes feel like Solomon in Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” But the Christian, whether a journalist or a janitor or a mom or a pastor or an accountant, remembers what Solomon says in the rest of his book: “I commend joy.” Why? Because God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”

10. Take joy. 

Christian journalists are in a unique position to take joy. We’re not prophets about the daily news, but we do know the rest of the story. All of our work unfolds in the context of God’s grand redemptive purposes.

This is the core of all Christian hope: Christ has died, He has risen again, and so will we. Whatever our work or our assignment, if we’re united to Christ by faith, we work with joy and we sing with the saints: “Ours the cross, the grave, the skies—Alleluia!”

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Whirled Views

Transgender tide

A professor at the University of Louisville says he lost his job for advising parents to help their children embrace their birth sex

A little over two years ago, I wrote an article about the growing push to affirm transgenderism in children and teenagers. National Geographic had just published an issue praising the movement, and featured a cover photo of a 9-year-old boy dressed like a girl.

Ken Zucker, a secular psychologist in Canada, had recently lost his longtime position at a mental health center in Toronto for suggesting parents should try to help confused children become secure with their birth sex.

During that time, I spoke with Allan Josephson, a professor and psychiatrist at the University of Louisville, who offers similar counsel. He told me Zucker’s firing had been “an incredibly sobering experience for many professionals to see.” Many realized: “If that could happen to him, perhaps it could happen to me.”

Two years later, Josephson says it’s no longer a hypothetical scenario.

On March 28, attorneys for the legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Louisville on behalf of Josephson. They say the school effectively fired the professor over his once-mainstream views.

The turmoil began in November 2017, when Josephson spoke on a panel at the Heritage Foundation about gender dysphoria and children. By then, Josephson had been chairing the university’s division of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology for nearly 15 years.

During the Heritage panel, Josephson said the notion that gender identity should trump biological reality when classifying individuals is “counter to medical science.” He said parents should listen to their children with empathy and then “use their collective wisdom in guiding their child to align with his or her biological sex.”

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Jordan Peterson (right) speaks with David Nasser at the March 29 Liberty convocation. (Image from video)

Whirled Views

Law of Liberty

A moving display of law and gospel punctuates Jordan Peterson’s visit to Liberty University

During a remarkable convocation service at Liberty University on March 29, psychologist and best-selling author Jordan Peterson unexpectedly encountered the desperation of someone who wanted to change his life, but who seemed lost to know how to begin.

As Peterson talked with Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. and spiritual director David Nasser about his book 12 Rules for Life, a man attending as a visitor rushed the stage with a pleading cry: “I need help! I just wanted to meet you. I’m unwell. I want to be well.”

Security escorted the man offstage—and, one hopes, to some form of help—but his plea seemed to hang in the air after his cries faded away: “I want to be well.” 

Those words should pierce the heart of any Christian who understands Jesus is the only one who can make broken people well. 

But those words seemed to pierce Peterson too. The Jungian psychologist doesn’t embrace saving faith in Christ, but he does squarely face the brutal reality of suffering in the world. 

The no-nonsense, fatherly admonitions he offers for facing suffering and taking responsibility have captivated throngs of readers and followers on YouTube. 

Many have become interested in Christianity because of Peterson’s secular wrestling with spiritual truths. 

But in this moment at Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., Peterson seemed to feel the weight of those who have come to look to him as a kind of savior, perhaps because he offers wisdom that resonates but doesn’t always satisfy. When Nasser later asked Peterson how he could pray for him, Peterson teared up. He said he doesn’t want to pay “an undue price” for the mistakes he knows he will make as he continues to try to go good in the world. 

It’s impossible to read someone’s mind or heart, but Peterson almost seemed to be saying: “I want to be well.”

The encounter caused me to think about a visit that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., made to Liberty during the 2016 presidential campaign. Sanders was respectful to the students, and the students respectfully received him. But after the student body sang a version of the Apostles’ Creed that proclaimed the school’s Christian beliefs, Sanders answered during his opening remarks: “I believe …” in abortion and gay marriage.

Sanders was respectful, but defiant. Peterson was respectful, but distressed.

Nasser, the spiritual director, applied the only balm suitable for Peterson’s wound: As he prayed for him, he asked God to reveal Christ to Peterson—not just as a great and noble man, but as a Savior for his soul. 

(And Nasser earlier told the students that Peterson’s 12 rules have great wisdom, but “they all stop short without the Ruler.”)

The man who rushed the stage reminds us of a blind man in the New Testament who cried out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Peterson reminds us of the rich young ruler who seemed to be genuinely interested in Christ—even moved by Him—but unwilling just yet to give up what he thought made him rich. In the young ruler’s case it was money, but in Peterson’s case it might be his own wisdom. 

The New Testament reminds us of Christ’s posture toward the rich young ruler, who was seeking Him but not fully ready to follow Him: “Looking at him, Jesus loved him.”

It’s a love most worthy of imitation by Christians living in a world full of broken people not yet yielding to the only one who can atone for their sin. We bear the good news of the gospel: Christ can make you well.

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