God on TV

"We believe in heaven and that Tim is with God," says a Catholic woman who lost her husband in the 9-11 attacks. In Denver, an anti-abortion protester shouts at a man accompanying his partner to an abortion clinic, "Turn to Jesus instead of your sulkiness."

"Their spirit, their whole being is in that space, so that makes [Ground Zero] sacred," says a woman leading a campaign to declare hallowed the site of the former World Trade Center buildings.

Welcome to the poignant and contradictory worlds of U.S. religious life. These are just a few of the arresting quotes from last fall's early weeks of the PBS award-winning show Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. Program host Bob Abernethy brings a stately eminence to the weekly format of feature stories that explore two or three controversial issues, a look at religious headlines around the world, and calendar events significant to many traditions.

The first weeks took viewers deep into the issues of the day. The shows contained portraits of two widows (one Catholic, one Jewish) grieving the loss of their husbands, an interview about whether accused priests charged with sexual abuse retain their civil rights, debates on a U.S. pre-emptive strike against Iraq, video footage of abortion protesters explaining their confrontational work in front of abortion clinics, and reports from Taize spiritual communities in Europe and Chicago.

The excellence of the program lies in its presentation of the range and complexity of America's religious landscape. U.S. viewers will gain new perspectives on their own religious communities and insights into the often-unknown communal rites of their religious "others." They will ponder the momentous conflicts erupting between Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others, yet also witness the shared commonplaces that bind people together across the many divisions of U.S. religion.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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