Thursday, October 4, 2012

Notebook jottings as journalists gather

The Religion Newswriters Association is gathering for its annual conference this week in Bethesda, Maryland. Here are a few vignettes along the way.

Joanna Brooks is a professor at San Diego State University and the author of “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith.”  She said that in the run-up to the presidential debate on Wednesday night, some Mormons were fasting so that Mitt Romney would have a successful debate. "We're all going to fast to make sure our guy kills in the debate ... and he does!"

Brooks also noted that there is a "feminization of heresy in many traditions ... women who do not speak in orthodoxy are excluded."
In a discussion over what's fair game about religion for reporters to ask candidates, David Campbell, a ;olitical scientist at the University of Notre Dame and co-author with Robert Putnam of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, offered this proposition: "Religion is relevant only to the extend it has a plausible connection to what that person would do in office." Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, argued in a column last year and in person on Thursday that journalists should be "less shy about probing the religious beliefs of candidates." He said a candidate's religious beliefs can be a window in how he or she views science, gay rights and a host of other issues. 
David Beckmann, head of Bread for the World, exuded great enthusiasm as he talked about the progress in the battle against global poverty. "The world has cut in half the number of people in extreme poverty in the last 30 years," he said. Using Biblical imagery, he called this "the Biblical exodus of our time."
Thomas Reese, S.J. is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. He said that too often we cite violation of church state boundaries just because we disagree with someone. "If I disagree with you, then you are violating the separation of church and state," he said. That ignores that "politics is a hard and ethical endeavor."

He observed that while the Catholic bishops still hold to the "consistent ethic of life" approach of the past generation, their emphasis has shifted away from economic issues to things like contraception, abortion and gay marriage. He noted they will grant "prudential judgment" to people on issues around things like poverty, but say that on things like abortion or gay marriage, there can be no dissent. That, Reese said, is "a fundamental misunderstanding of prudence."

Reese also posed this question: "Did the Nuns on the Bus have more impact than (the bishops' religious liberty campaign known as) the Fortnight of Freedom?"
The brand new dean of the National Cathedral, The Very Rev. Gary Hall (brand new as of Monday), talked about his vision for the future work of the Cathedral as we gathered in a conference room seven stories up in this magnificent building. One element is to use the Cathedral's "convening power" to focus on the intersections of faith and public life. Another is to build on a tradition of interfaith dialogue to be a convening presence for interfaith ministry. Another is to be even more a part of "healing the wounds and addressing the needs of the people of Washington D.C. And, of course, there is the matter of raising $20 million in the next five years to repair the damage done from the August 2011 earthquake.

Sally Quinn, who started the "On Faith" section of the Washington Post web site six years ago, welcome journalists covering religion to Washington - "a spiritual hardship post." She told of starting "On Faith" because she was concerned about the lack of coverage of religion everywhere, including the Post. She could not persuade editors to do much, but Don Graham, the publisher, told her to start a religion web site on the Post's site. "I didn't know anything about religion and I didn't know anyting about the web," she said. So she gathered smart people from both fields together and now On Faith is a powerhouse in the field of journalism about religion. When her friends asked her if having a religion site would not stir up controversy, she told them in Washington, "people's egos are much more sensitive than their souls."

No comments:

Post a Comment