If there is one thing you can usually count upon while working as a journalist in the United States – and in particular if you happen to be British like myself – is that Americans are not only unafraid of talking to the media, many do so without hesitation. It is an endearing characteristic of the American people, a wonderful sign that they are not afraid to stand up and be heard.
But in the six months that I spent working on my feature “For many Christians, it’s God before mortgage” that ran on Sept 21, I ran into a wall of silence for the first time since coming to work in the United States three years ago.
It all began back in February, while working on a series of feature stories that I compiled on the U.S. housing crisis. In interviews with non-profit counsellors in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta and then Memphis, the subject of tithing and how some struggling home owners would rather lose their homes than cease their payments to the church kept coming up.
At first in Chicago, I confess that I all but ignored the topic. I was focused on trying to get a handle on the scale of the housing meltdown and its implications – the fallout of which has been all too evident on Wall Street in recent weeks. Interesting, I thought to myself, how someone’s obligation to God and the church would take precedence over their earthly home, and filed away the comments for later use.
But as February turned to March and April and interviews in Atlanta, Memphis, then St Louis, Dallas brought up the same topic again and again, I knew I had found a fascinating story. Getting counsellors, religious leaders, academics and researchers to comment on the story was no problem – but the difficult part was finding a home owner to talk about it.