Suburban faith leaders seek 'nuance' in religion reporting
Suburban religious leaders urge a more nuanced approach to media coverage of faith communities that goes beyond scandals and formulaic stories of festivals and observances.
A bishop, a rabbi, an imam, and a church spokesman came together for a panel discussion Thursday to talk about how journalists can tell stories about faith, spirituality and core beliefs. It was hosted by the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin said the line between opinion and news is blurred and people's understanding of truth and facts differ.
"Religion, though, isn't necessarily about truth. That's why it can get tricky because so often religion is about opinion," she said, adding that anti-Jewish sentiment and the types of propaganda used against Jews during the Holocaust "are playing out right now."
Klein talked about a recent controversy sparked by Elgin Area School District U-46 school board member Jeanette Ward's Facebook comments denouncing her daughter's sixth-grade reading assignment about Jews, Christians and Muslims worshipping the same God. Ward's post upset local religious leaders and prompted "hurtful" comments against those faiths, she said.
Mohammed Labadi, president of the Islamic Center of DeKalb, stressed the common roots of the three Abrahamic faiths.
"We believe any person that believes in one God and submits in peace to God is Muslim," he said, adding that Muslims also believe in the various messengers and scriptures that have come before the Quran, Islam's holy book. "You will find that there is a lot (more) in common than isn't."
How the media portrays Islam and Muslims often puts the community on the defensive, Labadi said, reclaiming often misused Islamic terms such as "sharia" and "jihad."
"Sharia is my way of life" and includes kindness to family, co-workers and neighbors, he said. "Doing the best you can in anything that you do, including defending yourself in a war, that's jihad."
The Rev. David Malloy, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, said the complexity of religion cannot be summed up by looking at church policies.
"Policies basically can change," he said. "Our point is being rooted in the history and person of Jesus Christ. We are a church of saints and sinners. Religion, and some sense that there is something beyond simply ourselves, is widespread. It is something that is ingrained in us in many ways."
Malloy commented on the movie "Spotlight," about The Boston Globe's reporting of systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by Catholic priests.
"The story had to be told, and it was part of a purification that needed to come about," he said. "The church is better for it, having had to face that issue and we are still facing it."
The leaders bemoaned the national discourse about how religion is becoming overly politicized and the media are treating people of faith as monoliths.
"In our culture as a whole, we've lost a lot of nuance," said Todd Hertz, spokesman for Christ Community Church in St. Charles. Social media has created an "echo chamber" effect with people hearing only what they believe in based on whom they follow, he added.