CULTURE DIGEST: Ford possessed private faith, some say; employers accommodating families more; ...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--News magazines Time and Newsweek mentioned the issue of former President Gerald Ford’s faith in the days after his death, noting that many of his actions signaled a relationship with God though he didn’t speak about it much.

In a Time article titled “The Other Born-Again President?” authors Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy said the contest between Ford and Jimmy Carter for president in 1976 was between two born-again Christians, “but only one was willing to run as one.”

Gibbs and Duffy are also authors of the book “The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham’s White House Crusade,” which is due out in August. They focused their argument on Ford’s close friendship with Billy Zeoli, founder of Gospel Communications and a frequent minister to professional athletes.

Zeoli preached on “God’s Game Plan” once before a Redskins game, and Ford stuck around to talk with Zeoli about Christ and forgiveness, Time reported.

“I think that day is the day he looked back to as an extremely important day of knowing Christ,” Zeoli said.

Each Monday morning while Ford was in the White House, a devotional memo from Zeoli would be waiting on his Oval Office desk, the authors said, and Ford believed the memos were divinely inspired.

Time also noted that for years Ford faithfully attended a weekly prayer session with some of his friends in the House of Representatives, though he didn’t let it be known because he thought that if a person talked about going to Bible study, then people would get the idea that he thought he was somehow better than them.

Ford called Graham to talk about whether to pardon Richard Nixon, Time said, and the two had a prayer over the telephone regarding the matter.

During Ford’s campaign for re-election, Zeoli urged him to let his faith be known similar to the way Carter was painting himself as a born-again Christian. But Ford told Zeoli he didn’t think it was appropriate to advertise his religious beliefs, and he didn’t want to take advantage of his faith to get elected.

Jon Meacham, Newsweek’s managing editor, wrote that Ford was “in a quiet, unnoticed way, an important figure in America’s public religion” because in his most critical moments in the White House, he drew deeply on theological imagery. Meacham quoted several of Ford’s speeches in which he referred to “a higher Power” and made allusions to the Bible.

And when he pardoned Nixon, Ford said, “I do believe, with all my heart and mind and spirit, that I, not as president but as a humble servant of God, will receive justice without mercy if I fail to show mercy.” Ford’s essential message, Meacham wrote, was one of forgiveness and grace.

EMPLOYERS ACCOMODATING FAMILIES MORE -- A single divorce in the United States costs state and federal governments about $30,000, and the nation’s 10.4 million divorces in 2002 are estimated to have cost taxpayers more than $30 billion, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, said.

Whitehead was included in a four-part series of articles published by The Washington Times in late December on the changing views of marriage. She attributed much of the cost of divorces to the higher use of food stamps and public housing as well as increased bankruptcies and juvenile delinquency.

Some employers also have discovered that they’re losing money when their workers get divorced and either are less productive or quit their jobs altogether, so they’ve taken steps to prevent the break-up of families.

One of the most popular ways employers are starting to support families is to offer their workers flextime, which they can use to spend more quality time with their spouses and children rather than pushing themselves too hard on the job only to neglect those at home.

The Families and Work Institute said the number of employees who have access to flextime increased from 29 percent in 1992 to 43 percent in 2002, The Times reported. And in 2005, 73 percent of employees who had access to flextime used it.

Another growing trend is telework programs, which The Times said are being used to retain employees who move to the suburbs and whose long commutes cut away from family time. The programs allow employees to work from any location using technology that helps them keep in touch with their employer throughout the day, The Times said.

Even as companies change their methods, some experts say an overriding problem still threatens marriages.

“My sense is companies are doing more than ever to help people maintain their home lives, but there is a culture in this country that drives people to work harder and that culture places a strain on marriage,” Barbara Schneider, a professor of sociology and human development at Michigan State University, told The Times. “It is the mentality that has to be changed, and the burden is on businesses.”

The Times also reported that the divorce rate in the United States has steadily declined in recent years, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. About one in three marriages ends in divorce these days.

MAJORITY OF AMERICANS REJECT IRAQ COVERAGE -- More than half of Americans, 56 percent, believe the mainstream media’s coverage of the war in Iraq is generally inaccurate, and 61 percent of those say the media make the situation look worse than it actually is, according to a Gallup Poll survey released Jan. 4.

“About one-third of Americans believe that the news media present too negative a picture of what is happening in Iraq; one out of five believe that the news media present too positive a picture, and the rest say that news media coverage is about right or have no opinion,” Gallup said in a news release.

Furthermore, the opinions can be broken down by political affiliation, with two-thirds of Republicans saying the media’s coverage is both inaccurate and makes the situation appear worse, and 55 percent of Democrats saying the coverage is accurate or if it’s inaccurate then it’s skewed toward the positive.

The survey was based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,013 adults between Dec. 18 and 20.


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