Christian journalists should remember, they are never alone

By , posted August 9, 2011 at 5:03 pm

If you are all alone in a sea of unbelievers, do you count it as joy and privilege?

This is a key question for many Christian journalists who feel very alone in their secular newsrooms, more so for journalists in countries or cultures marked by intolerance toward Christianity.

At one point in my career, I questioned whether I should remain in secular media, thinking that perhaps I should apply my skills to a more-acutely evangelical task. Finding Gegrapha and enjoying fellowship with other Christians in similar circumstances changed my mind; I realized that God in his sovereignty places his people where he wants them, and that I should adore the assignment so long as it pleased the Lord to maintain it. (Tullian Tchividjian of Coral Ridge Presbyterian makes that same point in this excellent post). And it must be said that God has placed other Christians around me at work, a real blessing.

But some of you really are “alone” in your present circumstances as far as Christian fellowship is concerned. I’m writing this in hope of encouraging you.

Recently, I re-read Ken Auletta’s wonderful profile of legendary New York Times reporter John McCandlish Phillips and was again humbled, inspired and convicted by it. Those of you who have been associated with Gegrapha for a while, especially the New York chapter, know Phillips’ story (if not the man himself) well. If that’s not you, do yourself a favor and read Auletta’s piece.

Phillips was a city-beat reporter circa 1950s-70s, a golden era for the Times. The paper produced many famous reporters during that time – Phillips was not one who became nationally known, but was regarded by Gay Talese and others as nulli secundus as a writer and reporter. Phillips wrote like John Cheever (find a copy of his 1974 anthology “City Notebook” if you doubt me), hustled and brought a mix of courtesy and fearlessness to his job. What’s most important to know about Phillips is that he was a devoutly evangelical presence in a very secular, rough-and-tumble newsroom.

As Auletta wrote, “Colleagues on the Times knew Phillips as an uncommonly polite and generous man who never drank, smoked, cursed, or played cards. He kept a Bible on his desk, and once a week, surrounded by a handful of Times employees, he conducted Bible readings in the back of the third-floor newsroom.”

I can only imagine how strange and out-of-place Phillips must have seemed to many people in that newsroom, yet by all accounts he was widely respected. (Journalism may have been beset by drinking, gambling, womanizing and so on in those days, but ironically, I suspect Phillips’ devotion to Christ would be branded as “inappropriate proselytizing,” and not tolerated, in today’s more sober, civil and politically correct workplaces.)

If Phillips had few Christians with whom to fellowship at work, he was even more “alone” in his private life — as a lifelong bachelor. Yet, Phillips told Auletta, “I am not susceptible to loneliness because I am not alone.”

Ah, there is the key to the entire John McCandlish Phillips story, and to ours. He knows a savior and the abiding peace of the Holy Spirit. Not alone indeed.

Have we lashed ourselves to that truth?

The scriptures are filled with assurances that believers are never alone: Psalm 23 famously declares, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” In Psalm 16, King David wrote, “LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup … I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.” Jesus, shortly before his arrest, told his disciples, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (John 16:31-33)

So it is not surrounding circumstances that should define our well-being. The worse things get, the more we should turn to, rely upon and gain strength from our God who controls all things. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Aside from Christ himself hanging on a cross, the most “alone” person in scripture I can think of might have been Elijah, as told in 1 Kings 19. Fleeing for his life to a cave in the wilderness, the hounded prophet said to God, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” God spoke to him in a gentle whisper, and the message was, “Go back the way you came.”

It must have been difficult to hear that message, much less obey it. Yet Elijah did obey, and God was greatly glorified. If you are in the cave alone, so to speak, at least consider how your circumstances might be used to bring glory to your Savior.  Start by remembering that you are not alone.

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