Spring 1998

Volume 17, Issue 1

A Talk With David Aikman

Q and A

David Aikman is a former Senior Correspondent and Foreign Correspondent with Time magazine, with special knowledge of Russia, China, East Asia, and the Middle East. Over a twenty-three-year career at Time, he reported from five continents and more than fifty countries. He has interviewed several major world figures, from Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Billy Graham and has recently completed a book entitled Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century, due out in 1998.

Aikman has extensive radio and television experience, having appeared as a guest on C-Span and NBC’s Today Show and co-hosted several 700 Club programs. As both an author and reporter in key areas of the world, he has been a frequent speaker at university, civic, and business functions. He left Time Magazine in 1994 to concentrate on freelance reporting and book projects such as Great Souls, which documents the views and profiles the characters of some of the greatest personalities of the twentieth century. He is a contributing writer for the American Spectator and has written for several other magazines, including Reader’s Digest.

Q. With your extensive experience in journalism, how do you see the relationship between evangelical Christians and the media?

A.In the late 20th century a certain amount of mutual suspicion has existed between mainstream secular news organizations and evangelical Christians. One of the reasons is that, in the past, many evangelicals in the United States shut themselves away from the real world. That self-imposed isolation didn’t begin to abate until the 1970s or 1980s. It led to a type of siege mentality on the part of many Christians. They looked at the world and saw values that were clearly not Christian and then looked at the media, which seemed to be encouraging the spread of cultural values at odds with Christianity, and assumed that journalists were basically out to get Christians.

There is both a measure of truth and untruth in that. It is certainly true that the vast majority of mainstream secular reporters are not Christian or indeed spiritually alert. But many Christians have gone to the other extreme of assuming they are part of a dark conspiracy to attack Christianity. And that simply is not true.

For example, there has been a steady increase in the number of evangelical Christians with quite prominent roles in television, radio, and print media. These journalists don’t yield to anyone on their Christian faith, yet are thoroughly professional. They have maintained a Christian presence in the media, which is very good.

As a secular journalist all my life, I have spent a lot of time explaining to evangelical Christians that the journalistic profession has standards of integrity that even agnostic journalists try to adhere to sincerely. And the secular media is not "out to get Christianity," even though most of its practitioners are not committed Christians.

I also try to explain to my secular journalist friends that evangelical Christians are not trying to ram Christian values down the throats of many people. I have been trying to bridge a gap that’s quite wide, but has narrowed a bit in the last few years.

Q. How can Christians have a better relationship with journalists so that the media is less hostile, skeptical, and more open to what Christians are doing?

A. First, Christians should take the initiative in stepping back from any antagonism toward the media. I don’t think Christians should ever paint black an entire profession. Evangelical Christians should go out of their way to pray for journalists, to get to know them and not depict them as adversaries.

A program called "Adopt an Editor" provides an avenue for reconciliation. A Christian small group can begin praying for a particular editor or reporter and, after a period of time, invite that person to lunch with no agenda. They are simply saying, "You are an important element of the community and we want to encourage you to do a good job." A journalist who is approached by people who don’t have an ax to grind and who only want to love him as a person is totally disarmed. The next time a Christian event occurs, that editor will in all probability cover it with meticulous fairness.

Q. Do you see the situation between secular journalists and evangelical Christianity improving?

A. I do for several reasons. First, Christianity won’t go away. Even secular news organizations have to cope with events such as the recent Promise Keepers Rally, which was such a gigantic explosion of Christian piety that they had to take it seriously. Second, as I have mentioned, more and more Christians are going into secular journalism. That’s beginning to impact they way secular news organizations cover Christian news. Third, Christian organizations are becoming much more active in politics and are no longer regarding themselves as a League of Victims, so to speak. Both sides are making efforts to overcome some of the problems in the past, and I’m very much in favor of it.

Q. Your latest book is Great Souls: Six Who Changed the Century. What is it about?

A. It’s about six major figures of this century who have had a profound moral impact on the world. They are Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Billy Graham, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Pope John Paul, and Elie Wiesel -- a Jewish holocaust survivor and a Nobel Prize winner with whom most Christians are not familiar. I’ve met four of these people and interviewed three of them. I felt the lives of each had something extremely important to say to the entire world. I attributed to each a prevailing virtue or quality. For Mother Theresa, obviously, it was compassion; for Nelson Mandela, forgiveness; for Billy Graham, salvation; for Alexander Solzhenitsyn, truth; for Pope John Paul, human dignity; and for Wiesel, remembrance. I wanted to write about people who seemed to have a calling on their lives that, in most cases, they did not choose.

Q. What do you hope the general public will gain from reading it?

A. I hope ordinary readers will be inspired by the stories of how these people, often in the face of extraordinary opposition and even personal danger, were persistent in responding to a call on their lives which they recognized to be from God. I hope people will realize that individuals, if they are faithful to what God has called them to do, can have an incredible impact upon human situations, whether in a relatively small community or as a political leader or as a world famous writer.

I was very inspired while writing this book by the sense of responsibility that these people had toward the call on their lives --their sense of diligence about not wasting time, about directing the work of their lives which, in every case, was well beyond the support of themselves and their families.

I think a person reading the book can be inspired to work harder than he might otherwise have worked --to take greater risks for the cause of good. He can understand that conducting our lives, whether as homemakers or physicians, to please the Lord, can be of infinite value to our neighbors. A Christian in particular will come away knowing that no one is insignificant, that each of us has something to contribute.

RTS wordmarkReformed Quarterly, Volume 17, Issue 1
Reformed Theological Seminary
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Last updated 4-2-2002.