Religion in the New Year: Lessons from a Departing Editor

I found’s departing religion editor Dan Gilgoff’s observations this week insightful. His final blog before joining the National Geographic team lists “5 things I’ve learned” from his blogging on religion for CNN these last few years. Can we learn something from what he’s learned? ( 1. “The faith/meaning angles off breaking news can yield meaningful, important stories.”   He discusses the recent Connecticut school massacre. “Trying to make sense of seemingly senseless deaths and suffering is a fundamental human struggle.” And when he reported how people were struggling with the “Where was God?”, his blog elicited nearly 8,000 comments. The point? Irrespective of their religious persuasion (or the lack of it), people are eager to talk about belief and God and life’s meaning. Which means that you and I don’t have to hold back our convictions or conversations about faith and God, especially in a time of national tragedy. People want to talk—and that’s the right entre for your witness with stranger or neighbor. 2. “The explosion of people with no religion will be a huge story in this century, and the news media have only begun to explore its many implications.” As I noted here in a previous Fourth Watch blog, the religious “nones” are a growing slice of the American demographic—men, women, young adults who indicate “none” when surveyed about their religion. The church—and I’m thinking of my own congregation—cannot afford to hurry through the New Year assuming that everyone around it has an ear or a heart for God. More and more do not. What are we doing to connect with these who are building what Gilgoff calls “a post-religious existence.” 3. “Religion reporting shouldn’t be an inside game.” His point with this lesson is simply that an interest in the religion/faith angle of a story isn’t the curious domain for only the faithful. More and more political, social, even entertainment and sports stories are woven with the stuff of faith. Take, for example, the recent presidential campaign, which clearly bore the trappings of the candidates’ faith practice. To ignore the faith/religion angle to news events is to risk missing a defining DNA of the individuals or events. For those who believe, locating the faith nexus is another helpful entre in conversing with this generation about God. Look for the angles. 4. “The news media isn’t anti-religion.” While you and I may have concluded otherwise long ago, Gilgoff’s lesson deserves some reflection. His point is that news organizations like CNN are actually “fascinated by religion because it yields stories brimming with meaning, controversy and powerful characters.” Reporters and media outlets are not by definition anti-God or anti-religion (though there are plenty within their ranks who reflect that bias). Could it be that we will be open to fresh insights about the society Christ has called us to reach if we aren’t so quick to dismiss news and media commentators and commentaries as implicitly against God and religion. 5. “In the world of digital journalism, your voice matters more than ever.” Gilgoff ends his final religion blog with an appeal to his readers to voice their convictions. “With the proliferation of reader comments, social media and instantaneous metrics on what our audiences are clicking and how they’re responding, your choices and opinions are shaping our coverage more than ever.” Not a bad suggestion for Jesus’ third millennial disciples, is it? Gilgoff goes on, “Some of our best content from the last year was more about conversations happening around the news than about the news itself. We choose to do certain stories and skip others partly based on whether you’re engaged in those stories or not.” So as a believer don’t just blow away an urge to respond to a news event or a website/blog commentary. Your faith perspective in that collective cyberspace conversation  could plant the seed that will germinate the quest for faith in reader far away. After all, who do you suppose created cyberspace in the first place? “You are My witnesses” (Isaiah 43:10).