Which Religions to Cover?

I've been a religion reporter for more than a decade, and I still find that many misunderstand my title—journalists included. No, I don't cover church suppers. As a reporter for Religion News Service, I covered in the same week the Billy Graham crusade and a United Methodist congregation grappling with a multimillion-dollar bequest. Earlier in the year I interviewed Jimmy Carter about his new status as a former Southern Baptist, visited the church of the first woman bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and covered the plight of homeless single fathers at a California rescue mission.

The greatest reporting dilemma ahead is not whether to cover religion, but which religions to cover. As the country grows more diverse, we no longer can write just holiday stories timed to Christmas and Easter, Passover and Rosh Hashanah. We must learn the language of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other faiths whose houses of worship are cropping up in city blocks and rural hills.

We need to cover more examples of these faiths coming together—such as the range of religious groups supporting successful efforts to reduce Third World debt. We have to step out and learn about faiths that are not part of the traditional religious landscape that are adding to the choices for Americans who are searching for some kind of spirituality. We need to focus on the personal rather than the programmatic. People want to understand what makes the faithful observe their particular practices. Journalists have to do more of what we do best: ask questions, learn about the unknown, and accurately share what we find out.

Adelle M. Banks is senior correspondent at Religion News Service.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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