Acts of Faith
Religion headlines that matter
 

Happy Tuesday. I’ll be your newsletter guide for the month of June. I’ll aim when I can to share a little of our behind-the-scenes thinking on hot journalism topics of the day. Please let me know if what I’m sharing is useful or if you have other religion journalism-related questions or comments, story ideas. etc.

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In the last couple weeks the Post religion team has been unusually focused on Southern Baptists, as one of the giants in their movement fell from power dramatically because of various comments and actions related to women. Longtime seminary president Paige Patterson lost his job and benefits after a video surfaced of him preaching that he'd advised an abused wife who came to him for help to pray and not leave the abuser, along with an e-mail in which he reportedly told seminary security officials he wanted to meet alone with a female student who alleged she’d been raped so he could “break her down.”

A couple readers responded on Facebook and Twitter to these stories in a way I suspect may resonate with many of you. One self-described evangelical man wrote on Facebook to a Post religion reporter that he’d “hate” to see her focus on “always exposing moral failure in our (too often failing) movement." Another wrote on Twitter: “How many truly believe that the WAPO, or any other secular media source, have our best interests at heart?”

In both cases, conservative Christians quickly responded that journalists had helped “their movement” by exposing problems that were long hidden.

I wanted to share a few observations that are exclusive to this newsletter.

Journalists are driven by news. Often that is defined by: conflict, change, newness, drama, or the extremely high value we place on holding the powerful accountable. But another, equally important part of our job is to simply understand how religious identity and belief drive humans. And we know people feel protective of their faith tribe, however you define it. It’s not like journalists are immune from tribal feelings.

However we have to do our best to focus on stories that are revelatory about our era, and that affect a sweep of people – especially people who are disenfranchised and may not have another outlet for their stories. The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant group (and the second-largest faith group overall) in the United States.

And while the Patterson stories focus on the Southern Baptist Convention, and particular attributes of the Convention, some of the themes are broad: How organizations and leaders seek to protect their institutions; how conservative religion in our era juggles being both orthodox-traditional on gender while also facing rapid cultural change around women’s roles; and of course religious tribalism itself.

I think this question of religious tribe is so key in our era – but maybe not in the way it may seem. A big part of faith for many is community, and worshipping (whatever that means, from prayer or meditation to activism) in a shared style, with fellow believers is at the core. But we’re in an era of huge change, and tribal lines are changing and blurring. That’s one thing I’m trying to learn from the Paige Patterson story as it unfolds – and I try to use even painful stories as reporting/learning opportunities: What does it reflect about American religion? With whom do people ally on this story, and why?

As always, please write with observations and tips: michelle.boorstein@washpost.com. Thanks for reading.

 

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