Archive for category Christian Civility

How “Lou Grant” Ignited My Spiritual Call to Journalism

by Mark Wingfield | May 4, 2021 | Feature-Opinion

As a 19-year-old, I experienced a spiritual calling to journalism. And it happened while watching TV.

No, I wasn’t called to ministry by a televangelist. My calling came through the voice of Ed Asner, who in December 1980 was playing the role of a newspaper editor on the hit show, “Lou Grant.”

This show was a sequel to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” with Lou Grant having moved from managing a TV station to managing a city newspaper.

The details of what happened in the particular episode that spoke to me are lost to time, and that doesn’t really matter anyway. Because what I heard through the TV wasn’t actually the voice of Ed Asner, it was to me the voice of God.

In an instant, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that when I returned from Christmas break to my freshman year at Oklahoma Baptist University, I was to change my major from piano performance to journalism. Which is exactly what I did.

I understood in that moment – with extreme clarity – that the calling to Christian ministry I had experienced as a seventh-grader on a youth group mission trip was a calling to tell the truth with the power of words.

I understood that journalism was a path to offer a prophetic voice, to expose society’s wrongs and extol society’s virtues. I knew I could make a difference.

Looking back 40 years later, was this seeming word from the Lord correct? I believe wholeheartedly that it was, even if it was simplistic enough to break through my 19-year-old brain.

To borrow a line from Barbra Streisand: “Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we?”

Time has indeed rewritten many lines, but I would make the same decision again in a heartbeat. The reason why is contained in the theme for this year’s World Press Freedom Day: “Information as a Public Good.”

For me, journalism is a way to do good.

When we tell the stories of the voiceless, we’re doing a public good. When we tell the stories of the oppressed, we’re doing a public good.

When we tell the stories of those who give themselves for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the community, we’re doing a public good.

In this spiritual enterprise, I’ve led a charmed life. The worst I’ve had to deal with is angry letters or emails and only the occasional threat of a lawsuit.

The same cannot be said for many others who have answered the call to be truth-tellers in a world that loves lies.

Last year, 50 journalists worldwide were killed for their work, according to Reporters Without Borders. And two-thirds of those were killed in countries officially “at peace,” not at war.

Lou Grant also had it easy back in 1980 because most Americans then trusted the reliability of professional journalists, even if they didn’t like what was reported. That was before narcissistic public figures poisoned the well of American trust in order to prop up their self-serving lies.

Imagine a world, though, where journalists are not present to tell the truth, not allowed to explain what’s really going on. That’s a world of totalitarian dictatorship.

What we know now, though, that Lou Grant couldn’t have known, is the power of journalism to find a way out of the darkness even when kings and potentates try their best to stop it. Even when journalists are murdered or slandered or sidelined to keep the truth out.

Today, we the know the power of citizen journalists, ordinary people who use cell phone video and social media to document police abuse, racism and Capitol riots. We know the power of ordinary people who value truth and share it widely, even if taking on the role of journalist causes them to lose family and friends.

We know – beyond the shadow of a doubt – that truth will out. And we know that we who are Christians are called to that kind of truth-telling, whether we’ve been to journalism school or not.

So, this week, in honor of World Press Freedom Day, will you join me in answering the call to do what old-time Baptist newspaper editor E.S. James declared as his motto: “Tell the truth and trust the people”?

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for World Press Freedom Day (May 3). The previous article in the series is:

Free Press Steers Society in Right Direction | Marv Knox

Mark Wingfield headshot

Executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global and the author of Why Churches Need to Talk About Sexuality.

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Easter Sunday: New Life

For the second year I will not attend an in person Easter Sunday church service. In my youth I even attended Sunrise services especially when my dad was in charge. In my youth, Baptists celebrated only two religious calendar events – Christmas and Easter.
After moving to Charleston and First Baptist Church, fortunately we added a host of other events from the Christian calendar. Epiphany, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday (Stations of the Cross) and All Saints Eve. At Christmas we also have a Chrisman tree. My friend, the late Dr. Tom Guerry, use to carve them and give one to each couple attending a Christmas Eve brunch at his and Vicki’s home. I treasure ours.
As I became more familiar with the Lectionary, I came to a fuller appreciation for the sequence of events and how such observances better prepare us as we move through the year. These help me immensely in my preparation to teach Sunday school and to write devotionals for publications of different denominations. I have even learned to appreciate the colors for each season of the church.
I am profoundly grateful for the foundation I received at Northside Baptist Church in Woodruff that prepared me to grow in my Christian journey. I had wonderful mentors along the way: the Rev. Roy R. Gowan, Dr. C. Earl Cooper, and Dr. John Hamrick and a host of others from the John Hamrick Lectureship, which I chaired for twenty years and those I encountered at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State. Rev, Dr. R. Marshall Blalock has exercised amazing grace on my behalf over the years of our fellowship and I am grateful to him. I add to my list of mentors: Rev. Dr. Tom Guerry, Dr. Monty Knight, Chaplain Carl Tolbert, Rev. Bob Boston and Rev. Phil Bryant.

I must mention Rev. Ansel McGill, my boyhood friend and mentor long before I knew the meaning of the word. He is an inspiration throughout my life. Dr. Marvin Cann was my roommate at Furman University. Marvin’s friendship, continues to be a strong influence in my life. He is a mentor who leads by example.

This is a journey that continues to unfold. Easter is a new beginning, new life, new visions, new adventures.

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Voter Suppression Laws Spit on the Grave of John Lewis

John Lewis, the late U.S. Representative from Georgia, once said, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

For most of his life, Lewis got into “good trouble,” advocating for the voting rights of millions of Americans.

During the height of Jim Crow, Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders traveled through the south, registering Black voters and pressuring the Johnson Administration to pass a voting rights bill.

Because of their determination and sacrifices, such as being beaten on Bloody Sunday near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, millions of new voters were able to cast their ballots when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

Empowering citizens to exercise their voting rights is foundational in maintaining a healthy and vibrant democracy. However, the United States has often struggled with the notion that every citizen should have the right to exercise their vote.

Voting rights have been a contentious battle between freedom and oppression. Here is a brief history:

1789: The U.S. Constitution granted states the power to set voting parameters, most often setting white male property owners as the only citizens allowed to cast a vote.

1820s: Most states dropped the requirement for property ownership but maintained white male tax-paying dominance.

1828: Maryland is the last state to remove religious restrictions for voters, giving voting rights to Jews.

1867: All native-born Americans were granted citizenship but not the right to vote. The exception was Native Americans who were not granted citizenship until 1887.

1867-1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents states from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Quickly following, however, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws, hindering African Americans and poor white citizens from voting through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other restrictions. Under Jim Crow, only 3% of Blacks were registered to vote in the south.

1910-1920: By the incredible advocacy of women and a number of states enacting voting rights for women, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 provided women voting rights. However, Black women remained impeded from voting.

1924: Native Americans were granted voting rights through the Indian Citizenship Act, even though some states kept them from voting until 1948.

1965: For the entire time under Jim Crow, African American advocates fought and sacrificed for voting rights. The Voting Rights of 1965 helped correct discriminating laws and practices.

1965-2020: A number of states have attempted to make it more difficult to vote by implementing voter ID laws, reducing funding for polling places, limiting mail-in and absentee voting, and restricting early voting.

2021: Thirty-three states are actively considering legislation limiting opportunities for citizens to exercise their right to vote. For example, Georgia and Iowa recently passed legislation making it more difficult to vote. These laws will have a direct effect on lower-income citizens and minority communities.

In Iowa, early voting was reduced from 29 days to 20 days. Iowans will also have less time to cast their ballots on election day, as polls will now close an entire hour earlier. This decision could hinder thousands of voters who work overtime or run late from picking children up at daycare or dropping them off at evening activities. Other restrictions make it more difficult to cast an absentee ballot.

In Georgia, the bill will reduce the availability of absentee voting, restricting it to voters who are 65 and older, who have a physical disability or who will be out of town. Voter ID components of the law will make it a requirement to provide a driver’s license number, state ID number or other identification.

Voting rights advocates in Georgia point out how the bill unfairly targets Black communities, especially efforts by Black churches in their “Souls to the Polls” Sundays.  Black churches have been working hard to get their communities to engage and participate in elections. By eliminating Sunday voting, the law will pretty much kill the program as designed and intended.

Proponents of such legislation argue that they are only attempting to keep the integrity of elections intact. These lawmakers continue to express concern about 2020 voting irregularities, even though such allegations have been declared unfounded numerous times by election officials and courts.

Critics point out that the laws unfairly target minority and lower-income communities in an attempt to reduce voter turnout. By limiting access and placing more stringent requirements to vote, many Black leaders fear a return to Jim Crow standards of voting requirements.

Voting laws that target Black communities and discourage Black turnout spit on the grave of John Lewis and many others who spent their lives working to ensure future generations would not fear Jim Crow and voter suppression. They dreamed of the day when every Black citizen could feel their vote was welcomed and respected.

Unfortunately, there are those who still hold to the philosophy of the late political strategist Paul Weyrich who honestly and infamously declared, “They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote.”

“Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now,” he said. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Put simply, those whose goal is only to retain power and control make it harder to vote. Those whose goal is to ensure every citizen can have their voice heard through the ballot box make it easier to vote. The latter can be done securely.

If there were one sign to gauge the health of our democracy, then we need not look any further than voting rights.

The United States has always been at its best when the country provides voting rights to more citizens and empowers them to exercise that right. We are a healthier democracy and a more perfect union when more citizens are involved and engaged.

As people of good faith, we must remember the life, words and legacy of John Lewis. We must get in the way of injustices by stepping up and speaking out.

Lewis reminded us, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.”

Therefore, let the Beloved Community continue to do the work of the Lord within this world. Let us make certain the most vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the oppressed are represented and heard.

In a democratic republic like the United States, that means advocating for the voting rights of all citizens and giving more citizens the opportunity to vote.

Mitch Randall headshot

CEO of Good Faith Media.

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Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego – Rev. Susan Sparks -Sunnyside Up

Until I entered seminary, I thought that the three Bible characters who were saved from the fiery furnace were named Shadrach, Meshach, and “To bed we go.”

Okay, maybe the seminary timing is an exaggeration. However, it’s true that I believed those were their names. You see, in order to get me to go to sleep when I was a kid, my Dad would read me Bible stories—this one from the book of Daniel being one of my favorites. While he pronounced “Abednego” correctly (albeit with a thick Southern accent), I heard “to bed we go” because I knew that was what was coming.

Sadly, Shadrach, Meshach, and “to bed we go” weren’t the only names I got wrong. In elementary school, there was “Elemeno,” that peculiar letter in the alphabet that came before the letter “P.” As a teenager (and for many years afterward), I sang some embarrassingly incorrect lyrics from Starship’s hit song “We Built This City.” Instead of “We built this city on rock and roll,” I would happily croon, “We built this city on sausage rolls.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Recently, I discovered that there’s actually a term for this; “mondegreen” means a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement or song lyric. In fact, it’s quite common in human behavior. A study at the Baylor College of Medicine concluded that when our brains attempt to process imprecise information (like a song lyric that we’re not sure about), the blanks are filled in based on our own biases, prior beliefs, or expectations.

If you ask me, there’s a lot of “mondegreening” going on in our world these days. That’s understandable because as a society, we are terrible listeners. We form our answer or opinion before someone else’s sentence is even finished. We make assumptions that aren’t in evidence (as we used to say in the law). We form conclusions about what people are saying, filling in the blanks based on our biases, prior beliefs, and expectations.

In fact, we worship assumptions just as the ancient Babylonians worshipped the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar from my favorite “to bed you go” story in Daniel. There, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into a fiery furnace because they refuse to worship the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar, but an angel joins them in the fire, not only saving them, but transforming the heart of the king.

Sadly, we continue to worship at that golden idol of assumptions. Maybe it’s when our spouse or partner starts to tell us something, and we cut them off because we already “know” what they are going to say. Maybe it’s when we quickly click the remote because we’ve “heard all we need to hear.” Or maybe it’s when we refuse to listen to another side of an argument or story or dismiss an insight from someone with whom we disagree.

However it occurs, this refusal to listen tends to result in incomplete and inaccurate understandings of what is being said. We then fill in the blanks with our assumptions – kind of like when you know that your dad is trying to get you to sleep, so you hear “to bed we go” instead of “Abednego.”

The bottom line is that we repeat what we think we hear. And if we repeat it long enough, it becomes our truth.

Listening is a holy ritual that we should perform with grace and love every day. What if we refuse to worship at the idol of assumptions? What if, instead, we lean on our faith to give us more patience, empathy, and understanding? When we step out in faith, powerful forces will come to our aid—like, perhaps, an angel standing by us whispering, “take a breath; let them talk; hear their story.”

Sure, I’ll continue to belt out incorrect song lyrics that will mortify my family and friends, but I hope the inaccuracies will stop there. Singing a song lyric that the writer never intended is a wrong, but putting words into other people’s mouths is a whole ‘nother kind of wrong.

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