Some gleanings from a year of editing and writing stories about the pandemic. First, how the pandemic radicalized evangelicals, in the Los Angeles Review of Books. A more encouraging and counterintuitive take in Zocalo: Churches that chose a more moderate approach ended up thriving. Finally, in Bloomberg Opinion, a search for common ground at a time of political division in a rural Oregon county offers valuable lessons about ingenuity, resilience and the value of listening to people you don’t agree with.
Guideposts’ new series is Our Common Ground, about people working to bridge racial, economic, cultural and political divides. Such stories get less media attention but they are everywhere and they matter. Stories published so far: A multiracial church in the Deep South has hard conversations about Black Lives Matter (February issue). Two sorority sisters in New Jersey, one Christian, one Muslim, find an unexpected bond in faith. Stories under consideration include: a former gang leader now pursuing alternatives to policing in Stockton, Calif.; how a rural doctor persuaded a small Indiana town to open a needle exchange during an HIV outbreak; gay owners of a popular flower shop in Huntington, West Virginia who were embraced by their conservative community after their son was injured in a skateboarding accident. Racial, economic, cultural and political wounds run deep in America. Some people seek to heal them.
Recent work in Guideposts shows the magazine’s diversity of voices and offers a more nuanced and realistic view of religion in America than featured in many media outlets. Oklahoma City writer Christy Johnson writes about rethinking her evangelical Christian views of sexuality after her daughter comes out as gay. I conclude Guideposts’ two-year series on addiction with reporting from Vancouver, Canada, home to one of North America’s worst drug problems and most innovative approaches to treatment. Duke University religion professor Kate Bowler writes about how a diagnosis of incurable cancer challenged and deepened her Christian faith. And a Christian pastor and Muslim imam in Peoria, Illinois write about their unexpected and at times controversial friendship.
A roundup of recent editing work for Guideposts–our year-long series of stories about addiction and recovery. These are good, and important. Read about David Beddoe, a pastor who hid his addiction to pain pills until things fell apart; addiction counselor David Stoecker, whose recovery story is truly remarkable; and Fire Chief Jan Rader (above), who details the damage done by opioids in her city of Huntington, West Virginia, known as the overdose capital of America. Upcoming are stories by the chief medical examiner of the state of New Hampshire, whose early warnings about a rise in overdose deaths were ignored for years; a steel processing company owner in Pennsylvania who began employing recovering addicts after his daughter survived a decade-long heroin addiction; and other stories by addicts, loved ones and treatment professionals. More than 20 million Americans have a substance use disorder, according to the surgeon general. Twelve million report misusing prescription pain medication. Overdose deaths have quadrupled since 1999. This series provides accurate, forward-looking information to an audience disproportionately affected by drug addiction but often overlooked by other media outlets.
My latest in The Los Angeles Review of Books, an in-depth look at evangelicals’ evolving views about their foundational text, the Bible. Yet another signal that American evangelicalism is fracturing along generational and ethnic lines.
My latest in Boom: A Journal of California, a story about an Orange County mega-church revived by missionaries…from Africa. As America secularizes and grows more ethnically diverse, forward-thinking evangelicals are looking to rapidly growing churches in Africa, Asia and Latin America to help them survive.
Ten years ago, I covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for the New York Post. I spent more than a week in the city, interviewing survivors, witnessing damage, seeing dead bodies, sometimes paddling in abandoned boats to get to flooded areas. Stories for the Post, obviously, are written in a particular style. When I returned home, shaken by what I had seen, I wrote about my experience in my own style. These words are 10 years old now. But they are still vividly present. This is what it was like to be there.
A human body, left dead in the sun, makes more of itself. Heat expands air in the organs, distending the stomach and enlarging the limbs. Swollen skin tightens, dulling to a waxy sheen. Fingernails become bullet-shaped amber. The face puffs. It is larger—the entire body is larger—but the growth is denaturing.
I learned all of this in the city of New Orleans, during the days I spent covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a newspaper reporter. I saw my first dead body a few hours after arriving, then saw them continuously, several per day. When I could—when they weren’t floating or wedged in a high window or trapped in a flooded school kitchen—I knelt beside those bodies, examining their faces, searching for remnants of the life that had lit them. Their expressions were neutral, as if death had come as a passerby, unremarkable. Their limbs, though, were not relaxed, but stiff, even braced. Next to some were hand-lettered signs: “THIS PERSON DIED HERE.” One was draped in a blanket. Another wore a gold watch and chains. All were alone, and several remained, unclaimed, two days, three days, a week after I found them. They became for me quintessential signs of a city extinguished. Forgotten, as if the person they once embodied had never existed—never been born, never died.
A year ago, I published this story in Politico Magazine about evangelicals’ rapidly changing attitudes toward same-sex marriage. That story was prescient! Now, not a week goes by without news of prominent evangelicals coming out in support of same-sex marriage or engaging in constructive dialogue with gay and lesbian activists. (For example, here.) The days when conservative Christians believed they had the power, and the obligation, to dial back the cultural clock in America appear to be ending. With one exception: abortion, which I address in a recent essay in The Los Angeles Review of Books. Why has abortion remained divisive even as the number of abortions performed in America falls to historic lows? Read to find out!