Passion and Controversy

I understand why people of faith often have an ax to grind with the media. I wouldn't say to them, "Come on, we have the same mission. We're truth seekers. We're both about getting everything out into the open, exposing the dark to the light." Nor would I expect religious people to buy that the media are really in sync with them—because often the media are not in sync.

The challenge to the media is to take people of faith seriously and respectfully and to not measure what people are saying and doing in religious movements through the traditional grid of politics or scandal. For example, coverage of why the Southern Baptists are fighting over the inerrancy of the Bible can't be reduced to being all about political power. Things are often only interpreted in the framework that the reporter understands, and we miss a whole dimension of the story.

If a reporter has experienced some kind of faith of her own and is able to be fair and objective, then that often helps you get an angle in a story that otherwise might have been missed. If you're covering a beat that often is talking about the invisible or transcendent and you have never experienced it yourself, sometimes you'll miss things.

Religion stories have a lot of the elements that make a great story: passion, controversy, human interest. These are the issues that people care deeply and passionately about. Religion isn't something that should be ghettoized or boring. It's the most fascinating beat of all because it gets to the heart of where people are living.

Peggy Wehmeyer is religion correspondent for ABC News.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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