Newspapers and Religion: If Jesus Christ Were an Editor Part 1

About Dr. Charles Sheldon, a clergyman who wrote the famous Christian book In His Steps and became editor for the Topeka Capital, mixing journalism and religion.

The Day Christ Edited a Newspaper

It was one of the most unusual and dramatic experiments in the history of journalism.

It really happened, this experiment, when a hard-boiled metropolitan daily newspaper permitted a mild-mannered Congregational minister to take over as managing editor for one week. The clergyman had a theory, which he had expounded from the pulpit and in writing, that readers were not sensation-hungry, that they preferred decency and goodwill and restraint in the news reported to them. The clergyman argued that if a big-city daily were edited as Jesus Christ might have edited a paper, circulation would rise, not fall--and to this claim a newspaper publisher-editor responded by challenging the clergyman to prove it, and so one fine day in 1900 the clergyman moved in on the city desk to practice what he preached.

The clergyman was Dr. Charles M. Sheldon, renowned author of In His Steps, which became "the greatest best seller, exclusive of the Bible and Shakespeare, of all time." The newspaper, published by 37-year-old Frederick O. Popenoe, was the Topeka Capital, a leading Republican daily in Kansas. And this is the story of what took place when the Golden Rule was superimposed on the rowdy Front Page.

Dr. Charles Sheldon, the central figure in this holy journalistic crusade, was born in Wellsville, N.Y., in February of 1857. Educated at Brown University and Andover Theological Seminary (where, while still a student, he married a young Kansas woman), he was ordained as a Congregationalist minister at the age of 29. His 1st church was in Waterbury, Vt. Then, in December, 1888, he was transferred to Topeka, Kans., to become the 1st pastor of the city's new Central Congregational Church.

At once, Dr. Sheldon determined to find out how his flock lived. In the best reportorial tradition, he dressed in shabby clothes, pretended to be an out-of-work printer, and mingled with the unemployed to study job-hunting difficulties. He wound up with a job in a coal-yard bin--and a colorful Sunday sermon. Later, he divided Topeka into 7 working groups--doctors, lawyers, businessmen, railroad men, streetcar men, college students, newspapermen--and set out to live and work with each group in turn to learn its problems. With the doctors, he went into the hospitals and on their house calls for 2 weeks, and with the lawyers he went into courtrooms and visited jail cells for 2 weeks, until he learned community problems firsthand. What shocked him most profoundly was the indifference of Christians to those who were disadvantaged.

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