An Encounter with Madalyn Murray O'Hair
- David A. Williams
- 2003 31 Mar
I arrived at the television station and quickly made my way to the news director's office. The procedure was routine. Each week (sometimes twice or even three times) I would report to the station with a commentary. The assignments were always easy. Since this was a public television station (KERA, Dallas) all I had to do was to pick a topic that was sure to generate controversy. The station staff was liberal, as was much of the viewing audience, so anything that I said was sure to generate live phone-in calls that were seething with anger at my conservative views.
This was a win-win situation. The program generated controversy, thus increasing viewer ship for the station (at least when I was on). On the other hand, I usually got my choice of what I wanted to comment on and with few exceptions they got aired.
In the entertainment field, new aspirants are advised not to give up their day jobs. Although I had been writing publicly for a while at that point, my regular position as director of government/public affairs for a Fort Worth-based corporation insured me against any economic setback if the folks at the television station no longer wanted diversity of opinion provided by a conservative commentator.
I reported to the news director and she asked me what topic I had written my commentary about. I replied that it was gun control (always guaranteed to get a rise out of liberals). She indicated that my choice was a good subject, but she asked if I could put it off for a week or so. It seems that Madalyn Murray O'Hair was in town and would be appearing on our news program. Would I be interested in just interacting with her on the program? A question like that was comparable to asking a boy if he would mind taking a tour of a candy factory, knowing that free samples were just for the asking. I replied with an enthusiastic "Yes" and proceeded to the studio set.
It had always been my practice to arrive at the studio early and then go to the floor set and shoot the breeze with the camera and sound men, floor director, etc. (when you are a conservative on a program dominated by liberals, it pays to be on good standing with those who control the camera, sound, etc.).
Within a few minutes of my arrival on the set, Mrs. O'Hair appeared and took a seat around the table. When viewed in person, Mrs. O'Hair comes across non-threateningly. She was dressed simply and to the uninformed could have been mistaken as the nice lady down the street who shares cookies with the neighbors, or as anyone's kindly "Aunt Martha." Her true nature would emerge shortly. I introduced myself without telling her about my role on the program.
The rest of the program regulars took their seats around the table and after cues from the floor director we went on the "air." With brief introductions given of the rest, the host introduced Mrs. O'Hair. She asked O'Hair what brought her to Dallas. O'Hair replied that she was speaking to the inaugural meeting of a young atheists organization.
According to the guest, young adults who were atheists needed an organization where they could meet socially and get out from the Bible-belt atmosphere that pervaded Texas, especially Dallas. The program host asked where this meeting was to be and Mrs. O'Hair replied it was to be at a local Unitarian church. At that I replied under my breath, "It figures," not realizing that my microphone was on (in later checking with the sound people I learned that the mike had not picked up my remark).
Mrs. O'Hair then proceeded to do her standard diatribe against Christianity. She stated that Christians needed God as an emotional crutch and that they were not known as critical thinkers or intellectual giants. I remarked to her that C.S. Lewis, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Malcolm Muggeridge were all Christians and no slouches in the intellectual department. With a sneer in her voice, O'Hair dismissed them as second-rate writers.
O'Hair continued her comments by stating that she had suffered for her stand on atheism. As an example, she mentioned that Baptist boys (how she knew that they were Baptists, I'll never know unless she interviewed them) regularly pelted her house in Austin with rocks. She derisively questioned whether this was an example of Christian love.
Without a moment's thought, I blurted out "Well Jesus Christ loves you and because I am a Christian, so do I." There was a long silence as loud as Niagara Falls, and because this was live television the host embarrassingly and quickly moved the subject to something else. After the end of the program I drove back to Fort Worth and to the singles Bible study, "Icthus 2," that I belonged to and which met every Thursday night.
As they did every Thursday night, our singles group had watched the TV program but this night they were moved by my encounter with Mrs. O'Hair. We wanted to graphically show her that we loved her because of Jesus Christ. We then sent two dozen roses to her Austin headquarters. The message read, "From David Williams, the KERA Commentator who said that he loved you because of Jesus Christ, and Icthus 2, the singles ministry of McKinney Memorial Bible Church. We love you because God loves you."
Years later I met her son, Bill Murray, who had become a Christian evangelist. I recounted this story to him. Tears welled up in his eyes. He said, "David, you might never realize how God used that act of Christian love by your singles group and you."
We don't know if Mrs. O'Hair ever secretly came to Christ. Her body along with those of one of her sons, Jon Garth Murray, and her grand daughter, Robin Murray O'Hair, was found on a South Texas ranch in 2001.
My encounter with Mrs. O'Hair confirmed to me that although on the surface a person might come across confident in their belief system, deep in side there is a struggle going on. The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria said, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." However, for the Christian, we have more demanding marching orders. "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).
I am fully convinced that whether debating either a religious unbeliever or a political Liberal, that it is best to be open to the Holy Spirit's leading. Let the love of Christ show through. It will work even after we have used our best human arguments. Norma McCorvey, the "Roe" of Roe vs. Wade became pro-Life not after considering well-reasoned conservative logic, but through the Christian love of a little girl who was the daughter of an anti-abortion activist who worked in a pro-Life center next to the abortion center that Norma worked at. May our Christian witness always be as sweet and winsome.
David A. Williams of Fort Worth, Texas served from 1975-1977 as News Commentator on Newsroom (KERA-TV, Dallas, Texas) a daily news magazine founded by Jim Lehrer, later of PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour. Williams also served in the Reagan Administration from 1981-1988.