We live and write in an age in which all kinds of groups in the world of religion are being reshaped and their words and rites and symbols are being redefined.
This is news. Many religious groups are growing. So are in decline. Some are evolving. Some who call themselves Catholics act like Pentecostals and others act like goddess worshippers. There are Pentecostals who are converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, while others meet in megachurches and stage rites that resemble rock concerts. There are Jews who plead for universal religious liberties and those who want to strip gentiles of their right to freedom of speech. It's a confusing age.
It would be good to be able to read more about these kinds of trends in the morning newspaper. If and when we do see news reports about events of this kind, it would be good to be able to trust what we read. Meanwhile, the Internet allows all kinds of people involved in these events and trends to spread all kinds of information around the world. We do not know if we can trust them, either.
In the conventional press, we hear silence or worse. In the new media of cyberspace, we hear all kinds of voices. Where can we find information we can trust?
It would help if there were more communication, and better communication, between the people who see their calling as turning over rocks to find dirt and those who believe they are called to dig through the dirt to find the Rock. The worlds of journalism and religion are, at times, part of the same equation. The people in these fields often have remarkably similar motivations. Yet they could not possibly live in more different worlds -- with different goals and different rules.
It goes without saying that many religious leaders believe they are slighted and abused by the press. But we also meet here in an age in which people in the media are beginning to feel a bit downtrodden -- with good reason. A former colleague of mine in the Scripps Howard News Service, political writer Peter Brown, tells a story about the public's attitudes towards journalists that is both funny and rather sobering.
"The Salvation Army headed relief efforts in Waco, Texas, in the spring of 1993 when 80 men, women and children holed up from federal law enforcement officials for almost two months in a (Branch Davidian) compound before perishing in a conflagration. During that period, it got a few dozen calls from people who saw pictures showing this group distributing coffee, cold drinks and sandwiches to the hundreds of reporters on hand. One woman from Detroit was so incensed she called the Salvation Army commander there, Maj. Avedis Kasarian." She said her blood pressure went up about 40 points when she read we were serving the news media,' he recalled. She couldn't understand why anyone would be nice to journalists." (2)
This image captures the view that many citizens -- especially religious people and cultural conservatives -- have of those who work in the news media.