The Enlightenment of Ted Turner
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He’s one of America’s most recognizable moguls. It’s not just his signature, pencil-thin mustache or even his ever-present name on cable television (from Turner Sports and Turner Movie Classics to TBS and TNT). Sure, his media success and elite billionaire status have given him a platform, but it's Ted Turner’s quick-talking antics and rants about politics, religion, and money that have made him into a social lightening-rod and turned him from just a household name into a household discussion topic.
Many of Turner’s better-known comments were direct jabs at Christianity. He once called it “a religion for losers” and told employees who observed Ash Wednesday that “Jesus freaks” should go work for FOX (the rival to the Turner-founded news giant CNN). He apologized for the latter comment, but his feelings for Christians were no secret.
That’s why it was such a surprise when it was announced this week that Turner is joining in a $200 million effort to fight malaria in Africa with Methodist and Lutheran organizations.
In the past, Turner has been no stranger to philanthropy, donating a billion dollars to help start the Turner United Nations Foundation in 1997. But now, he’s teamed up with the same people he once poked fun at. Turner’s U.N. organization is joining with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to raise the money that will go to fighting a disease that kills more than one million people a year. (According to The Washington Times, most of deaths are women and young children.)
This time, Turner is putting his mouth where his money is. Before a news conference this week in New York where he announced the campaign, he told the Associated Press, "I regret anything I said about religion that was negative.”
Turner, who earlier in his life was proudly anti-religion, now says that he no longer considers himself an atheist or agnostic. The 69-year-old said at the press conference that his views are “always developing” as his years grow in number, according to an AP story. After all his experience seeing the world and observing what it has to offer, one thing has been made clear: "Religion is one of the bright spots as far as I'm concerned,” he told AP.
Even his business logic seems to praise Christianity: "The religious community is huge and has a very good reputation for being able to mobilize resources," Turner told the Associated Press. "Why not use them and be thankful?"
Although Turner has yet to formally embrace any religious doctrine or Christianity, the dramatic shift in attitude shows that something has changed in the life of this media mogul.
Throughout the years, his rants and politically-incorrect style have baited critics with every opportunity to call foul and exchange verbal blows with him. (And, of course, some have.) But after decades of wisecracking spars, Turner’s mind was changed not just by words, but by actions. It’s easy to want to fight back when it feels like your faith is under attack, but sometimes the easy way isn’t the right way.
During biblical times, James seemed to be pretty familiar with this type of thing.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires,” he told fellow Christians about times of persecution. ()
Ironically, the advice came after this passage:
For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. ()
Maybe Ted Turner, who says he has read the Bible cover-to-cover more than once, understands that there is something to be said for humility and has recalled James’ warning to rich and powerful. And maybe, whether he realizes it or not, he caught a glimpse of true “religion”—not from angry reactions to his early comments about faith and Christianity, but by observing the actions of the body of Christ helping those in need.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. ()
Ted Turner may still get more headlines for his spoken bombshells than his generous actions (even this week, he described Iraqi insurgents as “patriots” while being interviewed by PBS about the war in Iraq), but sound bytes are easy to react to. They’re easy to get mad about. Sound bytes don’t change minds; they change moods. If you really want to make a change, actions often speak louder than words.
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