Behind Baptist Press’ disregard for truthfulness and fairness is the journalistic approach of Marvin Olasky, editor of World magazine.
A professor of journalism at the University of Texas, Olasky is best known as the architect of George W. Bush’s catchphrase “compassionate conservatism.”
Bush and Olasky first met when Bush was running for governor in 1993.
According to a New York Times article, Olasky was raised in a Jewish family, joined the Communist Party after college and became an evangelical in 1976. When he could not find a church to his liking in Austin, he founded his own church, the Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
In 1992, his book The Tragedy of American Compassion caught the attention of Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who distributed the book to all incoming House freshmen, according to the New York Times.
During his first national address, Gingrich said, “Our models are Alexis de Tocqueville and Marvin Olasky. We are going to redefine compassion and take it back.”
In 1994, the SBC’s Executive Committee held a seminar for conservative Southern Baptist reporters, where Olasky taught his concept of Bible-based journalism.
Mark Coppenger, then a SBC vice-president for public relations, organized the seminar. Several years later, he had Olasky deliver lectures at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Olasky’s philosophy of journalism is based on his belief that the Bible is “the inerrant written Word of God” and that Christians are under attack.
Writing in Telling the Truth: How to Revitalize Christian Journalism, Olasky said biblical objectivity is a “commitment to proclaiming God’s objective truth.”
“The Christian journalistic goal…is true objectivity: presentation of the God’s-eye view,” Olasky wrote.
At one point, Olasky wrote, “Biblical objectivity means supporting the establishment and improvement of Bible-based education, and criticizing government schools, in the understanding that turning education over to ‘professionals’ who have no regard for God is an abdication of biblical parental responsibility.”
“Christian reporters should give equal space to a variety of perspectives only when the Bible is unclear,” he said.
For example, since the Bible is clear that abortion is wrong, news stories about abortion should be completely anti-abortion. When the Bible “is not clear” on issues, such as NAFTA, biblical objectivity should reflect “the biblical view, as best we can discern it through God’s Word,” he said.
Olasky wrote, “A solidly Christian news publication should not be balanced.”
Olasky and others, who talk non-stop about objective truth, fail to understand how human sinfulness corrupts our perception. They underestimate the power of culture and historical settings to shape how we read, interpret and apply biblical truth.
Like many Christians, Olasky does not acknowledge that his conservative worldview can disfigure his understanding of the Bible, just as a liberal worldview can distort comprehension of the Bible.
The lack of appreciation for the power of sin leads to an arrogance that jettisons fairness for the sake of ideology and permits untruthfulness for the sake of a political agenda.
In its quest for “biblical objectivity,” BP forsakes fairness and truthfulness. A needed antidote to such prideful certainty is the virtue of humility.
Robert Parham is BCE’s executive director.