The Good: Hits the target audience quite precisely, Light on advertisements
The Bad: Short, Repetitive, Obvious bias, Reinforces more than educates
The Basics: Keeping the Evangelical Christians around the world in touch about the current movements to make the world Christian, Decision is lightly packed with articles about converting people to Christ.
Religion, in my view, is a pretty personal thing. This is not to say that I don't fight against religious persecution when I encounter it or that I don't believe that everyone is entitled to their beliefs. In fact, the most common problem I run into with people of alleged faith is that while I believe everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, some do not share that enlightened position. I suspect by this point, most readers will be able to see where this review is going and I need not provide examples which define what side I am on. I'm a tolerant person and I value people who believe what they believe as opposed to try to tell everyone else how to live their life through legislation, litigation or cajoling the non-believers.
So, when I picked up Decision Magazine, I felt my stomach tighten. The magazine, which is a publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association caused me to clench up first because of its obvious bias, but the more I read the more it became about how repetitive and generally poor the writing in the magazine was. For those who are not Evangelical Christians, the magazine reads like an extended battleplan to convert the hearts and minds of those in the world to the ways of the Evangelicals (note: all you non-Evangelical Christians are pretty much damned with us non-Christians in this worldview, so no snickering!) and to those who are Evangelical Christians . . . well, it reads the same way because that is exactly what the magazine is. Unfortunately for those who come to the magazine attempting to be unbiased and review it on the merits, it is another tough sell for readers because of how repetitive the magazine is and how poorly the writing flows.
For my review, I used the October 2008 issue of Decision (it is "Decision," not "Decisions" - I've already filled out a bug report). The magazine is published eleven of the twelve months of the year and a subscription is $12.00. It is a thirty-six page publication and its editors are Billy and Franklin Graham, so this is intended to be a magazine that is theologically in-line with the Evangelical Christian movement that has sprung up over the last fifty plus years in the United States (Europe is being targeted in this issue!). What the magazine does well is present its case. Decision has remarkably few advertisements. In the forty-pages of Decision (including the covers) there are only five full pages of advertisements and one column ad, all of which are for branches of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in one form or another. One asks readers to e-mail thanks to Billy Graham for his 90th Birthday, another advertises a conference, another books, etc. The advertisements look much like the photographs and writing found throughout the rest of the magazine, so this is low on ads and that adds to the overall value of the magazine for those who are into their message.
After the table of contents, Decision leaps right in with a message from Billy Graham. Graham advises his readers to give their lives to spreading the word of Jesus Christ and right off the bat, this is problematic. Graham uses his position to bully with his opening words "If you don't seriously face God's call for you, that is a terrible sin and tragedy" (2). Given the way Evangelical Christians use fear to keep their members in-step, the implication of "sin" here is that failing to execute one's Evangelical duties - as defined by Graham - is that one will be damned if they are not devoting all of their free time to converting people to the Evangelical way. This implication is made explicit through a large display quote on subsequent pages where Graham analogizes failing to convert non-Christians with world starvation and nuclear holocaust. Graham then tries to convert new readers by encouraging them to repent and join the movement.
Graham's message is followed by a section aptly entitled "Front Lines." "Front Lines" reassures those of us who are trying to live our own lives without persecution that the Evangelical Christians are approaching this as a battlefield and a series of "culture wars." This section of the magazine relays the messages from the footsoldiers of the movement, exploring how the new pastors and missionaries are being trained. There is a column on the effect of an Evangelical festival in Mexico and here the publication becomes either troubling or laughable. The three quotes used to describe how great the conference was and its effects on the people of Villahermosa were all from people who were part of the actual festival - workers at it - as opposed to participants in it. So, it is of little surprise that a missionary will say that the festival did a great job of getting its message across. That was the goal, but not a single person who participated could be quoted saying that?! The section includes missionaries dispatched to Louisiana to help those in emergency shelters pray.
This is followed by a full article update from the My Hope mission. My Hope takes the Evangelical message to different countries around the world and works to create an Evangelical world. The coordinator of the My Hope movement in Brazil gives readers an update on the efforts there. Here, though, the magazine's writing is problematic. The article wanders from a three-paragraph testimonial about a Brazilian who came to the Evangelical movement thirty-four years prior before going into a pretty soft article about My Hope in Brazil. The article states the goals of the organization over and over again and they talk in general terms about organizational strategy, but there is little in the article about the results of their efforts.
This problem is mirrored in the pages that follow, with the interview the public relations specialist about the forthcoming Taipei Franklin Graham Festival. Grace Cheng - in an article surprisingly called "Our Focus Is Evangelism" which doesn't so much set it apart from any other article in the magazine - discusses the plans and spiritual needs of Taipei. The closest to hard numbers given are anything but optimistic for believers as Cheng relates how 93% of the population is Buddhist-Taoist and that after the last festival there were ten new baptisms (in a city of about 7 million). This, though, is valuable for readers who are not of the movement; this is not presented as disheartening within the magazine. The determination to convert one and all is so absolute that getting ten new members from a city of seven million is seen as a victory!
The bulk of the magazine is a series of articles on how urgent the spread of the Gospel is at this very moment. In articles that detail how to spread the word of Christ to non-believers, various evangelical leaders write about spreading the word around the world, how powerful god is, reaching people who might be dying and converting them before they do, and evangelizing to groups that are often neglected, like seafaring people. If you're uncomfortable with reading Decision just imagine being the only evangelical on an Alaskan crab boat who isn't converted! Evangelicals from Europe write about the specific problems they meet in spreading their message there. Young Evangelicals weigh in about their summer camp experiences at an Evangelical summer camp. The writing here is the only place where the simplistic nature makes any sense. However, generalizations - like one kid having had struggles in her life - serve little purpose in the articles. How can readers evaluate the strength of the girl's newfound connection with god if they do not know how great the struggles were for her? Not being able to go to church as a young kid might seem like a struggle to some, but not so much of a struggle as (for example) a young person who was victimized by a religious authority and ostracized for coming forward about that.
The magazine closes with a column on how Christians are persecuted - something of an irony considering how much of the rest of the magazine persecutes others for not being Christian - and closing words of hope from Franklin Graham.
Decision is merely reinforcement for those who already believe the Evangelical Christian message. The articles are hardly informative or well-written. The articles do not challenge the readers to think in any way or even open their mind or heart. It is largely expository and the articles never ask the questions that non-believers will ask. What the articles are is repetitive; this is a magazine for those who are out to collect souls for their god. Virtually every article is about how to do that or the people involved in doing that (or reinforcement messages that remind readers THEY had better be doing it!). Those who watch the televangelists and attend Evangelical churches likely get this enough without getting a magazine to tell them to do it even more.
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© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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