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The Christian Science Monitor’s core promise and a new digital product

From the June 2017 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Originally published in the May 15, 2017, Christian Science Sentinel.

Editor’s note: Mark Sappenfield is Editor of The Christian Science Monitor.

When Mary Baker Eddy took the first issue of The Christian Science Monitor in her hands and called that morning “the lightest day of all days,” she was making a promise to the members of the Church of Christ, Scientist, and to the world (see Irving C. Tomlinson, Twelve Years with Mary Baker Eddy, Amplified Edition, pp. 125–126).

In some ways, it has been the best-kept secret in journalism.

Over its history, the Monitor has done remarkable work—it helped bring America out of the toxic “yellow journalism” of Mrs. Eddy’s day, it has pioneered a commitment to world news, and it has helped lift the news industry to a more thoughtful view of daily events.

Yet in all these revolutions—marked by Pulitzer Prizes and hundreds of thousands of subscribers—it was not a brilliant Editor or a crackerjack staff that set the Monitor on a journalistic pedestal. It was that promise alluded to above.

Today, when I participate in talks about the Monitor, I hear the same comment repeated over and over again: “The Monitor is more needed now than ever.”

The comment often seems cloaked in a desire for the Monitor to be a fair referee in the partisan boxing match we see playing out in Washington, DC, and other government centers worldwide, as well as at family dinner tables. I can’t help but think that there’s much more to that desire.

It all goes back to that promise. What is it, really?

It is the promise Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, laid out in naming her newspaper The Christian Science Monitor and requiring that it “spread undivided the Science that operates unspent” (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 353).

It is the promise that the Monitor will help lift the world to see the operation of divine law in every aspect of world affairs—from our children’s day care to Russian politics.

That is a radical promise, and at times it has almost seemed as though views of the Monitor have settled with something more comfortable. Sometimes, the Monitor has been seen as the Christian Science movement’s gift to journalism. At other times, it has been seen as perhaps one of the Church of Christ, Scientist’s best marketing tools—a product that associated the Church with top-quality journalism.

Those are both good things. But they feel more like the byproducts of following our founder’s promise than the goal.

What the world needs now is something more. 

In May, the Monitor launched a new digital product to complement our weekly print edition. It’s a version of the Monitor delivered by email, designed to meet the daily needs of today’s readers.

The paid product, sent daily to readers’ email, is a mix of the best of the Monitor each weekday—five stories, graphics, or videos put into a package that can be scanned by readers in five minutes or pored over in depth. 

But all this is fundamentally about something bigger than a new format and packaging. It’s about making the Monitor’s core promise even clearer.

Too often today, the media feed the worst in us—making us feel more comfortable in self-righteous umbrage, widening our divides by dehumanizing our opponents, and amplifying our fears by playing on them for clicks online. When we are constantly barraged by these sorts of sentiments, hope has little space to take root. Mrs. Eddy wrote in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “Against the fatal beliefs that error is as real as Truth, that evil is equal in power to good if not superior, and that discord is as normal as harmony, even the hope of freedom from the bondage of sickness and sin has little inspiration to nerve endeavor” (p. 368). 

The Monitor mission is about restoring that hope. With the new product, we will be focusing on stories that daily challenge readers to broaden their perspectives and their love for their neighbor. We will be looking beyond the surface facts of the news to the values and motives that underlie them. And we will seek out progress, and places that need it, to break the mesmerism produced by believing that problems aren’t solvable. 

At its core, the Monitor has always been about building a community of deeply caring thinkers who want news that doesn’t underestimate their compassion or their capacity to make a difference. Going forward, we want to refresh that bond between the Monitor and those who love it most, making it an even better tool for those yearning to be a part of the solution. 

Frankly, the Monitor has no choice but to be more distinctive. Not only because the internet can bring you hundreds of articles on any topic with one click. But because the Monitor is fighting a far bigger battle than just reporting the news accurately and fairly. 

It is fighting to restore the faith in the power of God-given good that is sewn into the Monitor’s promise and the Christian Science Cause.

In requiring that the Monitor “spread undivided the Science that operates unspent,” Mrs. Eddy was pointedly paraphrasing someone else.

In his poem An Essay on Man, 18th-century English poet Alexander Pope sought to explain how a just God could be responsible for the apparent catastrophes of human existence. In examining how all nature expressed God as “parts of one stupendous whole,” Pope essentially wrote that divine Soul “lives through all life, extends through all extent, / Spreads undivided, operates unspent.”

The words were soaring and the intent earnest, but the evidence seemingly weak. Not long after, the French writer Voltaire viciously mocked the kind of philosophical optimism espoused by Pope and others in his satire Candide, when the main character, Candide, “stunned, stupefied, despairing, bleeding, trembling, said to himself:—If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others like?”

Between Pope and Voltaire was one of humanity’s deepest questions: Can a loving God be responsible for the awful events of daily life? 

Mary Baker Eddy sought to leave the world in no doubt of the answer, and the Monitor is an essential part of it. Through her healing work, she provided proof of the presence and power of a loving God. Through the Monitor, she provided a vessel for readers to see the world in a different light. 

News is not just “news”—random events unfolding on the flat canvas of mortal life. It is the convulsions that come from the world’s response to God’s ceaseless call to understand and obey divine law. It is the ferment of human progress—mankind grappling with, at times fiercely resisting, and ultimately consenting to the divine will—playing out in the realm of thought.

Science is operating unspent. News is the result. 

The Monitor is charged with spreading not merely the news, but the daily account of how Science is operating in thought, undivided.

It is exhorting Candide, and all of us, to see the world differently. 

That is the goal of the new Monitor product and the hope of a new path for our readers, journalism, and the world.

It is the continuing promise that we can have confidence that “the lightest day of all days” is today.

Originally published in the May 15, 2017, Christian Science Sentinel.

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