Michael Luo, a deputy metropolitan editor at the New York Times, is a Bible-believing Christian who has proven that it's entirely possible to hold onto one's faith while working in a mainstream newsroom.
Journalist Michael Luo (Image source: New York Times)
Luo spoke to students at The King's College, a Christian school in New York City, Thursday night about his decade-long career at the Times, perceived anti-evangelical bias and his struggle to balance journalistic ethics with open discussion about his biblical worldview.
The reporter joked about how some conservative evangelicals meet him with intense skepticism after they find out he works for the Times.
"I've got to say the most overt hostility I've ever encountered as a reporter for the New York Times, more than Baghdad, more than presidential campaigns, more than taking on the gun lobby, was when I went to the Values Voters Summit in 2008," he said.
The annual event attracts social conservatives and, according to Luo, he was met with "sneering" and negativity from some of the participants he approached after they learned he was a Times reporter.
In sharing the reaction he received from skeptical Christians who became a bit more comfortable and loosened up when he told them he was a churchgoer, Luo said he hoped to shed light on the perception many conservatives have that "the Times is dominated by secular elites who are hostile to faith."
Luo acknowledged that many of the students and faculty in the room at the King's College event likely wondered whether this perception was accurate, specifically when it comes to Christianity and evangelicalism.
"The Times is like a lot of other elite cultural institutions filled with cosmopolitan urban types, highly educated people who went to top colleges whose cultural sensibilities are probably more shaped by the Upper West Side and Park Slope, Brooklyn than, you know, the Bible Belt," Luo explained. "So it's certainly not the easiest place to say you're a Christian."
The reporter shared earlier, though, that there are other Christians at the Times who may not be as vocal as he's been about their faith (he quipped that some have even sworn him to secrecy when it comes to their theological views). That said, Luo hosted a recent breakfast during which Christians at the newspaper gathered to honor their faith.
Despite his relative openness, Luo shared that he, too, has struggled with wondering how much he should tout his Christian worldview if he truly wishes to remain objective in his reporting.
As for the Times' coverage of Christians, Luo said that there are times that the newspaper makes mistakes, specifically when it comes to stereotyping.
Watch the speech below:
"While the paper does place the highest premium on reporting the news free from bias, do we screw up our coverage of Christians sometimes? Of course we do," he said.
But Luo explained that it isn't overt bias that leads to errors or misrepresentations. He argued that reporters, many times, have worldviews that differ from the evangelical community, noting that ignorance can sometimes be at the root of "misleading characterizations."
"When we screw up it's not because of some sort of overt prejudice. The problem usually is you can't know what you don't know," he continued. "So a lot of reporters at the New York Times don't know any evangelicals or very, very, very few. Many, maybe they've set foot in church, but it was probably a long time ago for a lot of them."
He continued, "So they might not know that evangelical is a theological orientation not necessarily a political one. That there's a difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. That many evangelicals don't believe the earth was created in six, 24-hour days, that not all evangelicals believe in the rapture. So ignorance can obviously lead to inaccurate and misleading characterizations. And yes, it can lead to bias sometimes seeping through in the way Christians are depicted."
Luo said he has become a resident expert of sorts when it comes to evangelicals, as reporters will often come to him with questions and to make clarifications. He heralded the newspaper's attempts to be objective and to work diligently toward accuracy.
As for his own journey, Luo said he often wrestles with questions about what his responsibility is as a Christian at the Times, as he continually seeks to balance his career with his personal faith.
This story has been updated.