My friend and former colleague, Tom Minnery, passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Eve.
Although now living in Ohio, Tom and his wife, Deb, were in New Mexico for Christmas with their family. Tom slipped on some ice and sustained a massive head injury. He entered Glory in the early evening.
Tom was a familiar voice to the Focus on the Family constituency, especially with his monthly column in Citizen Magazine, a periodical he helped launch in 1987, and which he served as editor-in-chief.
Principled, humble, steady and witty, Tom helped lead our policy effort for nearly three decades.
But what many people may not know, is that his life and career turned and pivoted on the lyrics of the Bill Gaither piece, “Songs that Answer Questions.”
The year was 1976. Tom was a Capitol Hill correspondent for Gannett Newspapers. He was turning over every page and asking the right questions. But something didn’t feel right. Tom was growing frustrated. He was disenchanted with the churn and shallowness of regular news.
A relatively new Christian, Tom and Deb went to a Bill and Gloria Gaither concert one night.
“I don’t want to spend my time, A-singing songs to answer questions
That nobody’s even asking anyhow,” crooned Bill Gaither. It was the first time Bill had ever sung the new song.
The penny dropped for Tom. He wasn’t writing songs, but he was writing news – and trying to find answers neither his editors nor his readers seemed all that concerned about.
Inspired by that revelation, Tom resigned his reporting position and enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary. He wanted to know more about his new faith and felt like a master’s degree in theology was a good place to start.
Christianity Today came calling after his first year, hiring Tom on as the magazine’s news editor. At the magazine, Tom was mentored by Dr. Billy Graham, the famed evangelist who had started the publication.
Tom used to tell a great story about traveling with Dr. Graham just after the evangelist had been awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The recipient received a million dollars, and Billy Graham liked to carry the uncashed check around for months in his pocket, showing it off to whoever he ran into. Tom said it was fun to be friends with someone so unaffected by money.
It was in Washington D.C. during the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography that Tom would meet Dr. James Dobson, who had been appointed by then-Attorney General Edwin Meese.
Dr. Dobson was impressed by Tom, and so he asked him to mock up the magazine that would eventually become Citizen. Tom was then hired on to serve as editor-in-chief, and then actually oversee all of Focus’ other periodicals at the time.
For the next two plus decades, Tom served as Dr. Dobson’s “wingman” of sorts in the policy arena. He visited Washington numerous times per year, testified before Congress, and kept our constituency informed about what was going on – and what they could do as citizens to live out their faith.
“Being salt and light in this age means contending responsibly for godly standards,” Tom once wrote. “There is no escaping the mixture of religion and politics, because nearly every law is the result of somebody’s judgment about what is good and what is bad.”
Tom’s greatest achievement during his remarkable tenure was spearheading the start of family policy councils all over the country. These independently run organizations advocate for biblical citizenship, religious freedom and lobby for a wide variety of family friendly legislation. What Tom helped start back then is still thriving today.
When Tom retired, he was serving as president of Family Policy Alliance, which had previously been CitizenLink, Focus’ public policy affiliate.
As a Christian conservative, Tom was often vilified and even mocked by people in power. But he kept smiling and kept going because he knew the cultural elites weren’t his audience. He was simply being faithful to Christ’s call on his life.
“There’s nothing worse than a halfway committed position on a pro-life issue, because pro-life voters can smell that a mile away,” Tom once reflected.
Incidentally, that Bill Gaither song that changed the course of Tom’s life? It ends with Bill singing, “I want to spend my life, A-giving folks the living water, And the bread of life, They just can’t live without.”
Tom Minnery spent many years of his life doing just that – and while we grieve his tragic passing, we look with great anticipation to seeing him again on the other side.
Well done, and thank you, Tom.