Through the decades, the Rev. Billy Graham was known for saying three words over and over -- "The Bible says."
But the world's most famous evangelist quoted another authority during his 1994 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors -- Shirley MacLaine. A year earlier, Graham noted, the actress, and spiritual adventurer told the editors that religion plays a major role in news worldwide and that it's high time for journalists to accept that.
"What has happened to us?", asked MacLaine. "Why is the discussion of spirituality considered so publicly embarrassing, sentimental or, God forbid, New Age? Why does it make us squirm, when our own founding fathers recognized the spiritual aspect of man as his most fundamental?''
"Amen," said Graham. Journalists and preachers, he stressed, both communicate news about what's happening in life and culture. Both care about people and truth. Both care about injustice, racism and corruption.
"I believe that this is why the founding fathers included both freedom of religion and freedom of the press in the same First Amendment," he added. "In the long run, the loss of one freedom will bring about the loss of the other."
It isn't every day that a religion writer gets to quote Billy Graham and Shirley MacLaine making essential points about journalism.
Then again, this isn't just another column for me. This week marks my 30th anniversary writing this national "On Religion" column. The first piece ran on April 11, 1988 and focused -- wait for it -- on arguments about evangelicals and White House politics. Turn, turn, turn.
Three decades is a long time, so allow me to pause and make something clear. I still believe that if journalists want to cover real news in the real lives of real people in the real world then they need to get real serious about religion.
Yes, there are problems.