When faith and news collide

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By Meaghan Downs

This column doesn’t usually tackle religion.
But religion found me this week in an unusual place.
The news.
First, the facts.
I am a pastor’s daughter.
As well as sister, daughter and sarcastic lackwit, I’ve also claimed the title of pastor’s daughter for almost a decade now.
Therefore, I know a little bit (not a lot mind you) about how the religious sausage is made.
And everyone has an opinion about religion. Including pastor’s daughters.
They say you shouldn’t talk about faith or politics when you first meet strangers; both subjects are too volatile to navigate tactfully in the course of small talk conversations.  
I’ve never been an expert at small talk, so I usually end up discussing politics and religion, and I like to listen to two people of opposing viewpoints slug it out.  
I guess I’m a glutton for verbal punishment.
But when the Lutheran church recently found itself as the center of news stories broadcast by CNN, published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and even summarized by The New York Times, I did a double take.
My church world was encroaching on my news world. And, for some reason, I did not like it; it was like the church pew hymnal and my reporter’s notebook switched places in the night.
Without getting into the minutiae of our denomination’s politics, the controversy was this: our church president decided to admonish a Lutheran pastor who allegedly participated in an interfaith vigil in Newtown, Conn.
The pastor in question leads a congregation in Newtown, the town where 20 children and six adults died in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.
It’s surreal to read about your church body, especially the usually publically quiet Lutheran church, in the news. Discussed in the comments section online.
As a reporter, the endgame is to tell the story, not become the story.
If I had a chance to chisel that journalistic commandment in stone, I would.
Obviously, I was not the center of this particular story. Far from it.
But it begged the question: Can you have both religious faith and a sense of fairness as a journalist?  
The answer? Yes, in my opinion.
I know it’s unrealistic to expect that faith and work won’t, at some point, intersect. That the background and experiences you possess as a person may affect how you approach subjects as a writer.
But I approach topics with a whole mess of background baggage: education, family structure, race, gender, and faith.
At the end of the day, I can only ask myself, and readers, if I’ve treated issues and subjects fairly and accurately.
And that’s a question I should be able to answer without any doubt.

In city council news, I’d like to commend city council member George Geoghegan for abstaining during a city council vote Monday night.
Abstaining doesn’t seem like a big deal to most, but Geoghegan’s action indicates that the new city council member is serious about his role on the city council, and other council members are taking notice.
During a routine board reappointment, Geoghegan spoke up and said he could not vote to reappoint members to boards such as the ethics committee, board of zoning adjustments and the economic development board.
Not because he didn’t approve of those people, but because he didn’t know the qualifications of about two-thirds of them.
He went on to say that he could not vote on the board reappointments if he didn’t have information about the candidates.
To be sure, most of the board members had already been serving for some time on the boards they were appointed to, as Mayor Edwinna Baker mentioned during the meeting.
But Geoghegan, who was elected to his position this past November, doesn’t have familiarity with the board appointees.
Later, after the other five city council members approved the board reappointments, Sandy Goodlett, Larry Giles and Ken Evans commented on Geoghegan’s vote, suggesting that perhaps his points are something that needed to be addressed.
Evans went on to recommend that the council receive its meeting packet — which includes documents, financial reports and ordinances discussed in the council’s monthly meeting — three days earlier to give council members time to review the packet’s contents.
Goodlett’s comment was particularly telling.
“Sometimes we’re asked to vote on things we don’t know absolutely anything about,” Goodlett said. “It’s a cold vote.”

Follow staff writer Meaghan Downs on Twitter at @anewsmdowns.