Marvin Olasky

Unsurprisingly, my Oct. 19 stories and sidebars on about the death penalty drew lots of reader response, favorable and unfavorable: See WORLD’s Mailbag this week for examples of both. For those who missed the articles, I was essentially saying that capital punishment isn’t wrong but life imprisonment without parole is a legitimate substitute.

Some readers prefer a hard-line pro or con, and I deliberately didn’t take it, in line with WORLD’s journalistic desire to avoid either arrogance (confusing our own inclinations with God’s teaching) or relativism (saying everything is gray). You could read my essay on “Journalism and Humility,” but the shorthand we use internally derives from whitewater rapids, which fall into six classes. (Every half-dozen years or so I allude to this, and hope our longtime readers will be patient.)

Class 1 rapids are easy to navigate, and Class 1 stories are those on which the Bible gives us explicit guidance. For example, the Bible unambiguously proclaims that homosexuality and heterosexual adultery are wrong, so we don’t give equal space to pro and con positions on those issues. We don’t consider sinners in these areas subhuman—all of us in different ways deface yet don’t erase God’s image in us—but we aren’t neutral about what God clearly condemns.

Class 2 rapids are a little harder, and Class 2 stories are those on which the Bible takes an implicit position, such as the importance of Christian education. On Class 3 subjects different sides can cite biblical backup, but careful study allows biblical conclusions—although differences of opinion remain. How to fight poverty is a Class 3 issue on which Christians legitimately disagree, but I’ve steered a raft through Class 3 rapids and written books and articles arguing for what I believe is a biblical approach to helping the poor.

Class 4 rapids are more dangerous, and with Class 4 stories we have no clear biblical path but can bring to bear a biblical understanding of human nature and history: For example, we should not trust tyrants to abide by peace treaties. I’ve traversed Class 5–type rapids on the Rogue River and in the Grand Canyon in crafts captained by others, and ended up alive but soaked. With Class 5 stories we have no clear biblical mandate but can draw on historical experience. (Anyone who thinks government bureaucracies will be efficient is in for a soaking.)

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit
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