ACU Journalism Department Honors Religion Author for Christian Service in Media

Alumnus Bill Martin an expert on Religious Right, Billy Graham, sociology of religion

for immediate release Feb. 16, 1998

ABILENE - An Abilene Christian University alumnus who is a scholar on the sociology of religion received the "Christian Service in Mass Media" award from ACU's Department of Journalism and Mass Communication Tuesday, Feb. 24, at 3:30 p.m. in the Living Room of the Campus Center.

Dr. William Martin of Houston, who is the Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor of Religion and Public Policy and Senior Scholar in the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, is a graduate of both ACU (B.A. 1958, M.A. 1960) and Harvard University (Ph.D. 1969).

Martin may be best known for his 1996 book, "With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America"; his extensive 1991 biography, "A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story"; and his religion column in Texas Monthly magazine.

"Although my career has grown in many other venues as well, I will always feel a close tie and continuing debt to Abilene Christian," Martin said. He noted that he was inspired to become a college professor by the late Dr. Lemoine Lewis, ACU professor of Bible; the first articles he ever wrote were for The Optimist, the campus newspaper; and his three years as announcer for the Big Purple Marching Band "made him want to reach a larger audience." This last quality has remained true of his writing, as he been more interested in being published in the popular media over scholarly publications. He jokes that what he writes is "sociologically informed non-fiction for the literate lay public."

His Billy Graham biography won Christianity Today's Critic's Choice Award for the best book in the biography/history category and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Review Biography of the Year. His Texas Monthly work garnered a National Headliner Award in 1982 for "Consistently Outstanding Magazine Column." Since joining the Rice University faculty in 1968, he has been involved with many campus committees and been honored with several teaching awards.

Martin is a prolific writer and frequent speaker on the Religious Right, Billy Graham, Texans and religion, religious freedom, the electronic church, popular culture, and other areas related to sociology and religion. He spoke Tuesday during a joint session of the Mass Communication Ministry and Religion, Politics and Society symposiums at ACU on his approach to writing about religion.

"Before I was told that I would receive this award, I hadn't really thought of what I do as a ministry, but I don't disavow it either," Martin said. "I think of my work in the same way Luther and Calvin thought of a calling. What we do as Christians in our vocations serves and honors God whether we are in so-called full-time Christian service or in some other occupation in the secular world...."

"I have tried to be accurate, fair and balanced; sympathetic when possible; critical when necessary; always aware that I may be mistaken; determined to get it right the next time when I have it wrong. I don't think of what I do as a ministry in the strict sense, but it is a fine vocation and fine calling for a Christian and I try to do what I do as well as I can. Not only do I believe what I do is as valuable as a preacher or missionary, I have bet my life on it. I am delighted, honored and truly moved to receive this award."

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The honor, given each year during ACU's annual Bible Lectureship, was established to recognize Christians who have served faithfully in the general mass media for many years. The actual award consists of an authentic clay oil lamp from a period between the 12th and 8th centuries B.C. symbolic of the "light" Christians and journalists are called to be in the world.

If you are a member of the media who would like more information about this release, please contact Malissa Endsley, director of media relations, at or call 915-674-2692.

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Last update: February 16, 1998