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Those armed with the 'sword of the Spirit' -- en garde!          Send a link to a friend

Guest commentary by Debbie Thurman

[FEB. 25, 2006]  If you are fond of reading and occasionally quoting from the Bible, be prepared. Whether you know it or not, you are armed with an "assault ministry." I have it from a reliable theological source: Newsweek.

Of course, the majority of the population no longer reads the Good Book and has no idea what you are referring to when you use common scriptural phrases that were familiar to most people for centuries. So you are likely to find yourself in the same position that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University, and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas recently occupied after interviews with two prominent media organizations.

A reporter for Newsweek recently accompanied the Liberty University debate team to a tournament while researching a piece -- amusingly titled "Cut, Thrust and Christ" -- on the storied evangelical school that consistently sits atop the national debate rankings of all U.S. colleges and universities. She interviewed some of the students, the coaches and Falwell, naturally, to ferret out their secret weapon.

A story appearing in the Feb. 6 issue of the magazine quoted Falwell describing -- and it appeared in large print in a pull quote, no less -- the debate team's efforts as "an assault ministry." How's that?

As a kid growing up in the Bible Belt, I performed my share of "sword drills" -- that's speed-locating Scriptures. But I must have missed the Marine Corps class in assault ministry tactics at Quantico as a second lieutenant.

What Falwell had said, without a second thought at needing to clarify, was that Liberty University's debate team represented "a salt ministry," immediately understood by the biblically literate as a reference to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, in which he states that his followers are "the salt of the earth" (Matt. 5:13). Salt. A flavorful seasoning that cures or preserves.

In this strife-torn world, terrorized by religious extremists who take their perceived mandate to dominate the earth into the streets -- burning, ravaging and killing as they vilify those who dare to mock their prophet -- our ears are more attuned to war metaphors than to the parables and simple word pictures of the teacher who told us to love our enemies.

Newsweek's wasn't the only recent journalistic gaffe involving scriptural ignorance. Rolling Stone, that bastion of political correctness, embarrassingly misinterpreted Brownback's statement in reference to the gay marriage debate, specifically in Sweden: "You'll know them by their fruits." That's another biblical quote drawn from that same long passage of red words Jesus spoke to the multitudes -- this in the seventh chapter of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus was warning against "false prophets," declaring they would identify themselves by their false fruit ("Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?").

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Naturally, pundits and gay activists took full advantage of this media moment to climb atop their soapboxes and jab at what they perceived as a slurring reference to Swedish homosexuals as "fruits," actually somewhat justifying that label. Meanwhile, Christians, often portrayed by the media as simpletons who check their brains at the church door, enjoyed a good belly laugh at the expense of some witless wags. It was about time the tables were turned.

Is there really any embarrassment in the mainstream media world over these mistakes? Are Bibles being added to editorial reference shelves? I doubt it. Expect to hear more bungling in the coming years. One would think Mel Gibson's box-office behemoth, "The Passion of the Christ," two years ago might have compelled more of the media to read the Gospels. Apparently not. As a nation, we worry more about science and math deficiencies than moral ones. Those who know which fruit is worth gathering will need to hold the Fourth Estate accountable.

Some of the Liberty University debaters are going on to become journalists. Disclaimer: One of these future scribes is my pride and joy, my firstborn. True, I have seen her in "assault" mode during tournaments. What kind of "salt" these graduates will represent in the world remains to be seen, but salt they must be if they understand their commission. Hint: That's in Matthew's Gospel, too, at the very end.

As for the Falwells and Brownbacks of the world, they might need to consider hiring media wranglers armed with Bibles. The larger the concordance, the better.

[Debbie Thurman]

Debbie Thurman is a journalist and author writing from Monroe, Va., where she also runs a ministry and a publishing company. Her e-mail address is

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