From the Middle East to social issues, religion is a huge influence on current events and news today. In addition, faith is a big part of personal life for most Americans: According to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of Americans say that religion is “very important” to them, while another 26 percent say it’s “somewhat important.”
Yet for many or most reporters, religion is a foreign land. “I was practically born and raised in the news business, and know firsthand that newsrooms are exceedingly secular places,” says veteran journalist Carl Cannon. Religion expert Michael Cromartie recounts how he once mentioned the Book of Ephesians while providing a reporter with information for a story that touched on faith; the reporter asked him for the name of the author and the publisher.
To help fill some of this unhealthy knowledge gap, Cromartie and Luis Lugo, who worked within the Pew Charitable Trusts, discussed how it might be possible to “educate the press on religion.” In 1999 they began staging lunchtime seminars in D.C., a common practice in
the nation’s capital. Cromartie eventually proposed getting the journalists out of Washington and “away from their deadlines, to actually have a reflective two days with serious scholars.”
Pew provided funding, and in 2002 a weekend conference, now hosted semiannually near Miami, was launched. It is known as the Faith Angle Forum, and features presenters like megachurch pastors Tim Keller and Rick Warren, Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani, National Institutes of Health director and Christian Francis Collins, and an expert on Mormonism during Mitt Romney’s Presidential run. Every invitation-only conference is limited to about 20 reporters, columnists, or producers, including some of the most influential correspondents in the country.
The gatherings cost about $150,000 each to produce. Pew footed most of the costs for the first ten years. Additional funders like the John Templeton Foundation, Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, the Gloria Dei Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation have contributed in recent years.
- Faith Angle Forum, eppc.org/programs/the-faith-angle-forum
- Philanthropy magazine reporting, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/building_religion_iq_in_reporters