By Kara Hackett
His conservative opinions and rounded glasses might remind you of Eugene Pulliam who pioneered modern American journalism at the turn of the 20th century.
But unlike his grandfather, Russ Pulliam, 62, of Indianapolis, Ind., provides evangelical Christian commentary on politics and ideas shaping secular America.
“My desire is to bring the Bible to bear on all areas of life,” Pulliam said.
Instead of attending seminary, the third generation newspaperman shares his faith in editorials at the Indianapolis Star, formerly the Indianapolis News.
But he didn’t always memorize scripture with the same dedication that he runs 1.5 miles before work every morning. Instead, his long, skeptical journey to becoming one of the most renowned evangelicals in the newspaper industry began as a shy boy.
“I was very introverted,” Pulliam said. “Looking back, now I can say the problem was I was not reconciled with Christ.”
Pulliam grew up on Woodside Drive in the same neighborhood he lives today as a husband, father of six and grandfather of three.
As a child, he attended Trinity Episcopal Church at 3243 North Meridian Street with his parents and sister, but his faith didn’t develop until he attended Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.
Pulliam never felt obligated to run the family business. His interest in journalism developed naturally. He was an editor on his high school and college newspaper staffs, and he earned $5 per story as a stringer for a weekly paper and four daily papers, including the New York Times.
The summer after his junior year of college, he was selected for one of 25 highly competitive Washington Post intern positions, but Pulliam found success unfulfilling.
“There was an emptiness in my soul,” Pulliam said. “It’s possible the Lord was bringing me to the end of myself.”
When Pulliam finished college, he moved to New York to work as a beat reporter for the Associated Press (AP). He covered the bankruptcy of New York City in 1975.
But New York was strange place for a 21-year-old Christian in the 1970s. Evangelical churches were few, so Pulliam played basketball and shared the gospel with neighborhood youth to fill his spiritual void.
“I began to see the need for me to grow up in Christ if I was asking for them to grow up in Christ,” Pulliam said.
He was inspired by Campus Crusades and a group called Navigators who evangelize through personal relationships and Scripture memorization.
Pulliam wanted to know what the Bible said about issues like abortion at the forefront of 1972 American minds. But he enjoyed learning about faith so much he considered leaving news for full time ministry in 1973.
“As a Christian, I didn’t see the point of all the stories,” Pulliam said.
In 1976, Pulliam met Ruth Eichling of Metuchen, N.J., in Manhattan helping local children attend church. She prayed with him about how to integrate his faith with his reporting.
“I began to pray, ‘Lord, how do I bring you and the Bible to bear on the news stories I’m writing?’ Pulliam said.
Rather than going to seminary, he went on a personal journey to study systematic theology and church history at L’Abri Fellowship International in England and Ligonier Valley Study Center in Pennsylvania.
“I was like a sponge for Bible teaching,” Pulliam said.
He married Eichling in 1977, and in 1978, the couple moved back to Indianapolis where they had their first daughter, Christine.
Pulliam began writing editorials for the Indianapolis News, and from 1977-1987, nearly every topic he wrote about–from abortion to crime and alcohol abuse–had a direct relation to Scripture.
“I kept finding more and more themes about which I could say, ‘The world is saying this, and the Bible is says this,’ so how do I bring in the Bible to help people see the truth?” Pulliam said.
Before long, his belief in biblical journalism became developed into belief in the religious right of the 1980s. But flamboyant Christians unfamiliar with politics began to undermine the movement’s credibility.
“A lot of Christians who were conservative became concerned about cultural decline,” Pulliam said. “They made the mistake of thinking you could reform the culture if you elected more Christians to high office, but ultimately culture comes out of our hearts and not out of the law.”
So Pulliam doesn’t trust politics or even newspapers.
“If you put your trust in the news you’ll always be depressed,” Pulliam said, smiling.
He squints behind his glasses and quotes Psalm 146:3, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.”
“The role of Christians in the public isn’t necessarily through politics,” Pulliam said. “You can’t save a country that way, and I’ve come to realize that.”
Pulliam’s second eldest daughter Sarah Pulliam Bailey, 26, of Indianapolis is the online editor for Christianity Today. The most significant lesson she’s gleaned from her father is his journalistic values and standards.
“There’s the stereotype that journalists have hard shells and are only interested in hard facts,” Bailey said. “My dad defies those stereotypes because he cares about people on a personal level.”
For Pulliam, true change comes through creating commentary among citizens.
“Put your trust in Christ,” Pulliam said.