July 12, 2011
Did Christianity Today Mock Betty Ford?
Not by my reading of our archives.
Early this morning I turned to the New York Times (as I often do) and was shocked to see a laudatory piece about First Lady Betty Ford take a swipe at Christianity Today.
“The Christian Right was especially cruel,” to Ford, wrote Nixonland author Rick Perlstein. “In 1976, when a rabbi collapsed of a heart attack beside her at a ceremonial dinner, she courageously took the lectern to lead a prayer for his life. The rabbi ‘was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital a short time later,’ Christianity Today mocked in its next issue.”
Oh dear, where to begin?
First, in 1976 the Christian Right had not yet emerged. Attempts to organize a Christian political resistance began after the Supreme Court’s 1974 ruling in Bob Jones v. Simon. But nothing of size or influence emerged until 1979, when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority.
Far more disturbing to this reader is the suggestion that Christianity Today mocked the First Lady’s prayer for a dying rabbi.
Note this: One of the hallmarks of evangelical piety is ex tempore prayer. Christianity Today reported the First Lady’s impromptu prayer verbatim. That was a sign of the magazine’s respect for the way she displayed a typically evangelical kind of spiritual initiative.
Indeed, the magazine's brief news item did finish by reporting the rabbi’s death “a short time later,” but there was no mockery in that. Reporting the essential facts of a story is what reporters do. The end of the story was the natural place to locate that fact.
Read for yourself this brief news item from the July 18, 1976 issue of CT:
Rabbi Maurice S. Sage, 59, president of the Jewish National Fund of America, was about to present a Bible to Betty Ford during a dinner fete last month when he collapsed. As Secret Service agents and others tried to revive him the First Lady stepped to the podium at New York’s Hilton Hotel and asked the stunned audience to stand and pray for Sage. “I’ll have to say it in my own words,” she said.
She prayed: “Dear Father in heaven, we ask thy blessing on this magnificent man, Rabbi Sage. We know you can take care of him. We know you can bring him back to us. We know you are our leader. You are our strength. You are what life is all about. Love and love of fellow man is what we all need and depend on. Please, dear God. “
Then she asked everyone to join together in silent prayer for the rabbi.
The program was concluded abruptly. Sage, apparently the victim of a heart attack, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital a short time later.
That the prayer was not answered with a miraculous healing is a simple matter of realism, something all praying Christians know can happen. It says nothing about the spirit or the sincerity of the prayer.
* * *
Hat tip to Morgan Feddes for tracking down the original CT news item.