Many newspapers in Illinois are remembering former Senator Paul Simon today, after he died at age 75 in a hospital in Springfield, Illinois from complications due to heart surgery. The bow-tied politician is remembered for more than his trademark tie or his sometimes confusing name, which he joked about on an episode of Saturday Night Live when he and the singer were confused over who was hosting the show.
But Simon is remembered because he first earned a name as a newspaper editor and publisher (the youngest in the nation, says Wired) when his paper tackled crime and corruption in Troy, Illinois. He was 19 when he bought the paper, after dropping out of college and securing a $3,600 loan. By age 25, Simon was elected to the Illinois House, and his political career had begun.
Born to Lutheran missionary parents soon after they returned from China, Simon took his values to the statehouse. The Journal-Standard in Freeport, Illinois writes, "Simon left his mark on Illinois politics as a crusader for ethics reform when he was a state legislator in Springfield in the 1950s, where he spearheaded the Open Meetings Act." He continued his campaign against corruption until the day he died, when Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich signed ethics legislation that Simon helped create.
In Congress, Simon worked to feed the poor (along with his brother, Art, who founded Bread for the World), provide social programs to put the unemployed to work, sponsored the balanced budget amendment, overhauled student loan programs, and crusaded against television violence.
To those who knew him, he will be remembered for his integrity. The Central Illinois Pantagraph, writes:
In 1990, Simon bucked McLean County's Republican traditions and carried the county in his re-election bid against former Labor Secretary Lynn Martin of Rockford.
Political scientist George Gordon of Normal said the traditionally conservative area may have overlooked Simon's unabashedly liberal leanings because of his credibility.
"I think he believed in civility," said Gordon. "This is a real loss. Paul Simon was a guy who had a very broad perspective on a wide range of public policy issues."
U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, a Peoria Republican, called Simon a "true leader."
"When I was first elected to the House, Paul reached out to me to work on issues of mutual concern," said LaHood. "His bipartisan approach to being a member of Congress certainly made an impression on me and I counted Paul as a true friend."
According to Wired, Simon published two books in October. In Our Culture of Pandering, Wired quotes Simon saying, "In too many areas we have spawned 'leadership' that does not lead, that panders to our whims rather than telling us the truth, that follows the crowd rather than challenging us, that weakens us rather than strengthening us."
In 1997, Simon told the graduating class at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, "When we say the pledge of allegiance, we say 'one nation, under God, indivisible.' We ought to be achieving that goal and I want you to help us achieve it … You, my friends who are graduating here today, let your mission be not that you will add wealth and degrees and fame, but that you are going to use the tools that have been given to you here at Wesleyan to reach out and help others and make this nation and this world a better place."
In a UPI column Uwe Siemon-Netto wrote about Simon's faith-informed social concerns. "He calls the unwillingness of faith leaders 'to do the unpopular' a sin. He pillories the way they 'comfort … those who attend religious functions but not … disturb them by building bridges to other faiths or by helping the most miserable in or society and our world in concrete ways.' " Siemon-Netto continues:
"To what extent are today's religious communities social clubs rather than agents of change?" Paul Simon asks, and then quotes political philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago's Divinity School: "(We have) a smorgasbord religiosity whose primary aim seems to be to make us feel good about God but god forbid that this should place any demands on us."
Simon reminds his readers: "Centuries before Jesus or Muhammad, the prophet Amos wrote that because people denied justice to the oppressed, the Lord despised their religious assemblies, their songs and their sacrifices."
In his final column for Editor & Publisher magazine, Simon lamented the current state of news reporting. He said, "Pulitzer prizes are nice, but I sense they're not as important to most of today's CEOs as the profit margin … So news treatment by reporters, who are spread too thin, tends to be superficial. Personal scandals and controversies that would not have made the news 30 or 40 years ago often are the big news items. 'It's what the public wants,' we're told. This excessive attention to the trivial, to the scintillating, is not good for the nation and is not responsible journalism."
Simon concluded: "To make profit an all-absorbing pursuit does not serve the nation well, and in the long run, it will not serve the media outlets well."
Weblog answers Weblog
Speaking of the state of news reporting, earlier this week Weblog asked "Does Fuller Seminary program really oppose evangelism of Muslims?" Stories in the Los Angeles Times and Associated Press reported on a federally funded program launched by Fuller that sought to make peace with Muslims, in which Fuller pledged not to "proselytize." Evangelicals were concerned that Fuller had decided not to evangelize Muslims, but the seminary insisted "that pledges against proselytizing one another's communities would apply only to the two-year peacemaking project and would not prevent either side from sharing their respective faiths during that time."
This left many scratching their heads. Weblog promised to keep you informed of new developments in the story. Recently we received some clarification from Fuller. "The LA Times article obscured an important point. For this particular project of seeking to reduce conflict between Muslims and evangelicals, we have agreed that neither group will use this particular project for the purposes of proselytizing. We continue to teach courses in Muslim evangelism. Indeed we just appointed a new faculty member who will combine her work at Fuller with her continuing leadership in a French ministry that aims at leading Muslim women to Christ."
Well, with other news about Fuller, that's one less thing to think about.
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