Burnout on the God beat – second top religion writer calls it quits
Covering religion may be harmful to your faith. Two leading religion journalists — one in Britain, one in the United States — have quit the beat in recent months, saying they had acquired such a close look at such scandalous behaviour by Christians that they lost their faith and had to leave.
Stephen Bates, who recently stepped down as religious affairs writer for the London Guardian, has just published an account of his seven years on the beat in an article entitled “Demob Happy” for the New Humanist magazine. Bates followed the crisis in the Anglican Communion for several years and even wrote a book on it, A Church At War: Anglicans and Homosexuality.
“Now I am moving on,” his article concludes. “It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.”
Bates announced his move back in September in another interesting article, this time for the website Religious Intelligence. Writing from New Orleans, where he was covering the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, he said: “Writing this story has been too corrosive of what faith I had left: indeed watching the way the gay row has played out in the Anglican Communion has cost me my belief in the essential benignity of too many Christians. For the good of my soul, I need to do something else.” Bates, who says he still regards himself as a Catholic, said he was turned off by the intolerance he saw towards gays and the self-righteousness of Christians who “pick and choose the sins that are acceptable and condemn those – always committed by other, lesser people – that are not.”
Shortly before Bates called it quits, William Lobdell, who gave the Los Angeles Times first-class coverage of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal in California, threw in the towel with a wrenching story of his own struggle with organised religion. His farewell story in July, “Religion beat became a test of faith“ was a moving testimony of a journalist who started off as a Presbyterian, was active with evangelicals and seriously considered becoming a Catholic. But, during his eight years on the beat, the Catholic clerical sex abuse scandal put him off religion so badly that he lost his faith altogether. For an example of what he came across, take a look at Missionary’s Dark Legacy, a powerful story from 2005 about the trail of sexual abuse a Catholic missionary left behind after seven years among the Eskimos. Nearly every boy in the settlement was abused.
What do readers think? Can you understand how Bates and Lobdell reacted? Do you think a journalist has to be a believer to be a good religion reporter?