Tom Gjelten discusses respectful faith journalism with RCC DC Chapter

By Claudia Shoemaker, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty intern

Tom Gjelten, NPR Religion Reporter, meets with RCC DC Chapter, Feb. 10, 2016. Photo by Jordan Edwards.

For the past year, NPR has been using religion as a prism through which to view America, thanks to the work of Religion and Belief Correspondent Tom Gjelten. The DC members of the Religion Communicators Council spent time in discussion with Gjelten during their February meeting. A self-proclaimed “lapsed” Lutheran, Gjelten framed his conversation around the need for respectful and impartial faith journalism.

Prior to his work with Religion, Gjelten began his time with NPR in 1982 as a labor and education reporter, later becoming one of their first foreign correspondents in 1986. Much of his time was spent covering international news, worldwide social and political conflict, and U.S. military affairs from the Pentagon and State Department to South America and Eastern Europe.

For religion reporters and communicators, he stressed his most important and fundamental premise to reporting: the knowledge that faith is powerful and fundamental to the majority of Americans. Regardless of one’s faith background, respecting the sanctity of all faiths is crucial – now more than ever.

Photo by Jordan Edwards.

Rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and increasing polarization in our society is creating a tougher task for those reporting on religion; they must constantly fashion their work to changing ideas and new perspectives. Therein lies an additional responsibility: to inform people about the beliefs of those who fill mosques, synagogues and churches nationwide. According to Gjelten, it is the duty of religion reporters and thinkers to fill the gap, while tackling the tough issues that are often ignored in day-to-day conversation.

The changing landscape of not only faith, but of how we report on faith, means reporters must tailor to new ways of operating. New use of technology is necessary to convey a message. Utilizing podcasts and blogs instead of only traditional radio and newspaper methods has allowed more readers and listeners to grasp the message.

Gjelten’s latest book, A Nation of Nations, tackles the idea of the “second wave of immigration,” including the different faith groups and new ideas that have come to the United States in recent decades. Our country’s ability to adapt to this changing landscape and embrace all faith practices truly allows us to live up to the “Nation of Immigrants” claim.

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