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Godless member of the MSM tells all!

March 9, 2012

One of the most frequent questions I receive after meeting someone for the first time is how I went from professional journalism to the ministry.

Let me be clear: They’re not asking me to recite the practical steps of how I managed to make it through seminary while holding down a job and having a family.  They want to know what in the world a (Godless?) journalist has in common with the clergy.

Here’s the background: I spent many years as a print journalist, interrupted only by a brief stint as a legislative staffer (and that’s a whole ‘nother story). In my career, I have written about murders, wrecks, rapes, robberies, Good Samaritans, political races, sports, the environment, you name it.

That was my first vocational calling.

The second is ministry of word and sacrament.

I graduated with a master’s from Brite Divinity School last year.  I completed ordination requirements and am actively seeking a pastorate. Meanwhile, I still work weekends at my old job, and so I am in a somewhat unique position:  maintaining a foot in two worlds.

People are usually surprised – actually, they are sometimes shocked to the point of contorted facial expression — when I answer their question by telling them that journalists and the clergy have a lot of similarities. It’s OK. It sometimes surprises me, too. Here’s what I mean:

_ Journalists and ministers both need to be the kind of people who can be comfortable talking with anyone – rich, poor, male, female, old, young,  different races and nationalities, different religious backgrounds.

_ Pastors and journalists both spend time with people in the highest and lowest moments of their lives – in the midst of the greatest achievements and worst tragedies. Of course, in one case, the goal is to tell their story to others. In the other, it is to help them perhaps find how their story intersects with God’s.

_ Journalists and pastors both need to be generalists, knowledgeable in a lot of different subjects. Journalists sometimes have to move quickly from one topic to another on a moment’s notice, and therefore must have some working knowledge in a variety of areas. It is true of the best preachers, as well. If you read the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons, for example, you cannot come away without an appreciation for his depth of knowledge in history, philosophy, literature.

_ The best preachers are often great writers who can organize their thoughts on paper in an eloquent way. And they are gifted storytellers.

But perhaps the biggest thing in common between journalists and clergy is that both are widely misunderstood.  I have heard a lot about “typical journalists,” though in most cases the barbs fall well within the realm of what my old journalism professor called killing the messenger. Of course, this goes with the territory, and if you are in this business very long, you get used to it. It helps to develop a thick skin. Come to think of it, I have been told this is a good thing for pastors, as well.


I have found that misunderstanding of what journalists do extends even to the seminary, among some of my colleagues and professors.  And I have to laugh at some of the accusations of conspiracy I read on the Internet about the MSM – admitting here that I only recently learned what MSM means (mainstream media, usually derisive).  Trust me on this: Journalists are too disorganized to conspire about anything.

Although it was some time ago, I remember wrestling with the difficult decision to pursue a journalism degree as an undergrad. I also considered social work. In retrospect, my parents’ concern for social justice – nurtured both by the church and their experiences growing up dirt poor in the Great Depression — played a role. I wanted to help people, particularly those who had been mistreated or held down by powerful, oppressive forces in the world.

As a journalist, I’ve had a chance to bring attention to people who cried out for justice.  And I’ve been blessed to meet interesting people who often had amazing stories to tell. They haven’t all been those kinds of stories, of course, but those are the ones I most enjoyed and for which I am most grateful.

I am also proud to have been a part of a profession in which courageous individuals have given their lives in pursuit of the truth.

The pursuit of truth seems to be another thing in common between the worlds of journalism and the clergy.  Granted, most of the people I have known in my years as a writer and editor were not “religious” people you might expect to see in church on Sunday, though some were.

But nearly everyone, religious or not, had a very deep sense of compassion for others and a strong sense of right and wrong. They were willing to be a voice for the voiceless, often in the face of very strong resistance. Does God not also call the Church to do the same?

By the way, I’m neither Godless (as far as I know) nor have I told you everything.  I just wanted you to read my blog, so I wrote a sensational headline. Typical journalist!

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