"There are really only two questions," he proclaimed, his many years of experience bringing an attentive silence to the room. "Why do I want to read this? And, why do I want to read this in my church's newspaper?" The speaker was John Lovelace, Editor Emeritus at UMR Communications in Dallas. The occasion was the annual gathering of United Church News Conference Editors. John was leading a workshop to help them produce more effective newspapers.
These questions were profoundly present last month as the United Church News staff weighed carefully the decision whether to run the evocative story and disturbing photograph on page 11. There was intense give and take among staff members as to the merits of sharing this article and image with our readers. Is the photo gratuitously violent? Are the ideas expressed in the article offensive to U.S. soldiers and their families, many of whom suffer the uncertainties and the ravages of conflict? Is the article accurate? Is it in the best interests of our paper, our readers, our church? The deliberations produced no clear consensus, but a "go or no go" decision needed to be made. This is where John's two questions were instructive.
Why do I want to read this? Because informed citizens and discerning persons of faith must seek out different perspectives to be fully informed. In the United States, we are inundated with sanitized messages about this war, told by imbedded reporters and former generals. Iraqi suffering, though lamented, is relegated to a lesser place than our military and political objectives. When we read in stark terms and see in graphic detail the horrors of war, we are reminded of the price that is paid for our government's action.
Why do I want to read this in my church's newspaper? Because the United Church of Christ is committed to telling the truth. Because, as Jesus said, the truth shall set you free. And because, as Hiram Johnson said, "The first casualty when war comes is truth." This article and photograph serve as counterweights to other bits of information, other images that gloss over the brutality of violence inevitable in times of war. It is incumbent upon our church's newspaper to remind us of this awful reality, even if it is painful to watch.
Finally, we trust the readers of United Church News to understand that, no matter how awful, this is not the final word on this war or the human condition. This Easter season is a reminder of redemption and the promise of God's enduring love, sometimes despite apparent evidence to the contrary. In this spirit, we decided to run the article and print the photograph.
The Rev. Robert Chase is Publisher of United Church News.