While we are sleeping

Posted: Jun 19, 2003 12:00 AM

Summertime, and the journalism is easy. In the absence of another 9-11 disaster over the past 21 months, some in the press are sinking back into the pattern of asking questions that assume terrorists aren't terrible: Is the Bush administration spending too much on the military? Is it going too far in promoting national security? Pundits are complaining that Iraq, after thousands of years of rule by kings, caliphs and dictators, is not already a peaceful democracy.

Another change in this summer of ease: After 9-11, questions about God were on reporter's lips, but (apart from some queries about President Bush's religious tendencies) Christian belief is once again largely banished to the Saturday church directories beloved by advertising departments. One small indication: the ignoring of God-centered quotations from David Robinson, the San Antonio Spurs star who retired after his team's championship win on Sunday, June 15.

During the victory celebration shown on television, Robinson repeatedly thanked God. One story, from The Associated Press, quoted him in that regard: "In the post-game ceremony David Robinson, who scored 13 points and had 17 rebounds in his final game as a player, received a special burst of shouts and applause after 14 seasons as a Spur. ‘I just praise the Lord because he carried us through this year,' he said."

None of the other 248 stories about Robinson and his teammates that were filed on June 16 and included in the Lexis-Nexis database used that quotation or similar ones. Even features that specifically focused on the Naval Academy graduate (Austin American-Statesman, "Admiral sails away after one final masterpiece"; Dallas Morning News, "Admiral wins in arms race"; Detroit Free Press, "Admiral wins his final battle"; USA Today, "Job done, admiral sails into sunset") and quoted him on other matters did not quote him praising the Lord. Only a couple referred generally to his Christian beliefs.

Cliched headlines, cliched secularism -- and harder questions generally go unasked and unanswered. The American Medical Association last week endorsed cloning for research but did not back Norma McCorvey (the Roe of the Supreme Court's abortion-legalizing Roe vs. Wade decision) in her plea to reopen the famous case. Unasked question: Why do so many doctors now endorse the destruction of human life? Marriage is under assault in Ontario and in several American states, as well. Unasked question: Is marriage God-ordained and proven good, or is it something that can be twisted and used to pick up the image of any comic strip it's pressed against, like silly putty?

We sleep now, but not in heavenly peace. Happily, some are making wake-up calls. On Tuesday, June 17, the Rev. Jack Graham, president of the Southern Baptist Convention -- and pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas -- told the SBC annual meeting that we live in "dangerous times, deadly times" with terrorism and technological advances such as cloning threatening humanity. Graham argued that evangelicals should respond to opponents not by "retreating into some Christian subculture," but should instead "penetrate the darkness of our culture" with the teachings of Christ. He vowed, "We will not retreat or run from the battle."

Some pastors have retreated or run from confronting homosexuality and heterosexual adultery: They have either overlooked the sin or treated the sinners as subhuman. But in recent years the Southern Baptist Convention -- the largest Protestant denomination in the country, reporting 16 million members -- has emphasized programs to rescue marriage. This week, it introduced an initiative to rescue homosexuals who realize their lifestyle is destructive and desire to change.

Unless some preacher says something nasty about Muslims, the SBC meeting won't get much coverage, but such programs are important. They show a willingness not to pretend that all is well, but to help those willing to come to grips with problems or differences. David Robinson's cries of joy should not be censored, and international or personal cries for help should not be obscured by summer haze.