My days as a full-time religion reporter are over. For now.

You may have heard that the newspaper business is hurting, big time. We’ve seen massive cutbacks across the industry for years and the demise of several newspapers.

Here at LoHud/The Journal News, the news staff has been shrinking for some time.

The week before last, we lost more than 40 reporters and editors. The NYT even wrote about a major reorganization here.

I was fortunate to be “rehired.” But some beats had to go. Religion was one of them.

Newspapers across the country have been eliminating their religion beats. It seems that religion is seen as a “soft news” beat and a luxury at a time when newspapers are emphasizing breaking news on their Websites.

Clearly, I think religion news is important in many ways — and that the beat is perhaps the most interesting in journalism. I’ve written about this many times.

But these are tough times for everyone and the newspaper industry is going through a brutal transition period. No one knows what the news media might look like, say, a decade from now.

So I am now a general assignments reporter — as I was before I started covering religion in March 1997.

I’ll cover some religion stories, for sure. But I’ll spend most of my time reporting and writing on other subjects.

As far as this blog goes, I hope to continue writing it.

But I won’t post 3 or 4 times a day, as I have done for the past three years. I’m thinking one post a day — and we’ll see where things go.

Change is tough, especially when I’ve loved (mostly) covering the God Beat. But I’ll continue to look out for the big stories and trends and I’ll try to note some of them here.

Thanks for reading.

Christian talk on the recession

The current issue of The Christian Century is focused on the recession.

The cover headline reads: “Theological Dividends: Lessons of the economic downturn”

I have an article about how churches in good, old Westchester County have tried to respond to the needs of suburbanites.

My story is not on the Christian Century website, so you can’t read it unless you’re an old-fashioned subscriber. We miss subscribers in the print world.

But you can read the thoughts of the Rev. Michael Lindvall, pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, who writes about the different ways people try to come to terms with the financial mess. Some blame others. Some focus on being victimized.

But Lindvall puts the onus on human sin. He writes:


Calvin saw that human brokenness is no simple matter of doing some things that are wrong while doing others that are altogether right. Rather, even our noblest, wisest and most selfless acts are tinged with the sin that permeates even our virtues. Niebuhr reminded us that sin is not simply a reality within individual persons or a matter of autonomous choices; it is systemic. Sin is built into our finest institutions. It is endemic in our highest culture. It is hidden in our wisest strategic plans and plagues well-intended governments and noble reform movements. Sin confounds complex financial derivatives and the rescue plans designed to clean up their mess. No one, not one, is righteous.


You can also read the musings of four other Christian scholars. One of them, Deirdre McCloskey, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has written a theological defense of capitalism, wrote this:


Innovation has been better than any exercise of the usual Christian charity. Indeed, from the point of view of a theology of creativity, it has been Christian charity. Give what you will to the poor of the world, economic creativity since 1800 has given ten times more. Simple charity is good for your soul. But if you wish actually to help the poor, you should let markets and innovation work, because they are what have transformed the lives of the poor. Look at China or India, freed from Mao’s communism or the License Raj. The world economy has sharply slowed this year. But it will return next year to raising the incomes of the poorest faster than at any time in history.

More thoughts on the summer slowdown

My FaithBeat column Saturday was about how congregational life slows down during the summer.

Like so many things.

You can read it HERE.

One member of the clergy who I tried to contact, the Rev. Susan Fortunato of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Pearl River, had been at the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in the Golden State. But she emailed me some thoughts over the weekend, so here they are:


Churches and temples have understood the importance of slowing down and stepping out of our busy lives for a long time.   At its essence that is what worship is — a chance to live for a few moments outside of the priorities of our day to day lives and reflect.  Reflection is the currency of the soul.  Without time to step out of our daily priorities and reflect, we run the risk of letting our souls atrophy and forgetting altogether that we are, in fact, spiritual beings and not simply bodies rushing to and from work, the grocery store, and the mall.

Summer is often a time when our society allows us that time for reflection.  Whether walking to the store instead of driving, taking your kids on a hike through Harriman State Park, or simply sitting on your deck and sharing a meal with frriends — longer days, milder weather, and the beauty of Rockland County all conspire to help us slow down.

I’ve found that whenever I slow down and allow myself to step outside of my routine I find myself thinking about the world, my life, and ultimately about God more deeply.  So I think that everyone should dust off their bikes, make a date to go kayaking and rejoice at all the blessings God has graced us with.

What would Calvin tweet?

I am now on Twitter.

You can find me at

Or to experienced Twitterers: @faithbeat.

Right now, my blog posts are going out as Tweets.

I expect to begin sending out other Tweets, once I figure out what and why. I mean, what makes sense?

For now — since I’ve been reading the words of John Calvin and talking to people about him — I find myself wondering: What could Calvin tweet?

How about this, from the Institutes of the Christian Religion:


man…inebriated with self-love, should thus be driven into a knowledge of himself, and a confession of his own imbecility and impurity


Only 135 characters!

Now back on furlough…

I just got back from the Doubletree Hotel in Tarrytown, where I received a Washington Irving Book Award from the Westchester Library Association for my book, “Can God Intervene: How Religion Explains Natural Disasters.”

The award goes to Westchester-based authors — 10 for fiction and 9 for non-fiction this time around.

It’s a nice honor, which I do appreciate.

In a couple of hours, I begin another week on furlough — that special week of unpaid vacation that has become so popular in the newspaper industry and other lines of work.

I won’t be blogging next week. But I will be running errands.

I aim to be back on Monday, May 18.

Enjoy the sunshine. Finally.

The weekend line-up

Today: Archbishop Dolan visited Ground Zero.

As he walked out, he said he felt an “overwhelming sadness at the horror, suffering and pain that the site still carries.”

Tomorrow: Joel Osteen at Yankee Stadium. Will he fill more seats than the Yankees?

Sunday: I’m speaking at Maryknoll at 2:30 p.m. about covering the religion beat.

Monday: The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life releases a major study on people who switch faiths.

Me at Maryknoll next Sunday

While I’m thinking about it, I’ll be speaking next Sunday — April 26 — at Maryknoll in Ossining about my years on the religion beat.

I’ll start talking at 2:30 p.m.

Here’s the title: “Following God Through the Lower Hudson Valley.” I kinda like it.

When I was putting together an outline for what I might say, I filled up a page pretty quick: What exactly is religion news? How do you write about faith? How does one (one being me) cover so many different religions in a place like New York? How are reporters seen and treated by religious authorities? Which religions are most difficult to cover? The most interesting?

I can go on and on.

And I will, next Sunday at Maryknoll.

Okay, not on and on. But I’ll talk for a while and answer questions.

Free. Open to all. Directions and other info HERE.

Protesting war (in churches)

I had an article yesterday — unrelated to the appointment of an archbishop — that I would like to recommend for your perusal.

Here’s the deal (if you missed it): A few months ago, I heard about a group of people opposed to the war in Iraq who were stopping by Westchester churches to demonstrate. Their method struck me as, well, odd. I heard that they simply show up, sit in a pew for a while, and then get up, move to the side of the church and silently unroll banners that protest the war.

I found a reference to the group on the Web, contacted one of them and met with the group, which opposes both the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I wrote about who they are, what their motivations are, and how some clergy feel about the unannounced visits.

Yes, that’s them.

Although I’ve been pretty swamped with archbishop-related stuff, I’ve received some interesting calls and emails about the article and have heard some meaty conversations about the group and their method of protest.

One reader pointed out an oversight on my part: The demonstration may be illegal.

New York Penal Law includes:


Section 240.21 Disruption, or disturbance of religious service

A person is guilty of aggravated disorderly conduct, who makes unreasonable noise or disturbance while at a lawfully assembled religious service or within one hundred feet thereof, with intent to cause annoyance or alarm or recklessly creating a risk thereof.

Aggravated disorderly conduct is a class A misdemeanor.


Are these demonstrators making “unreasonable noise or disturbance?” Noise? No. Disturbance? Quite possibly.

Is their intent to cause “annoyance or alarm or recklessly creating a risk?” Their whole point is to cause annoyance.

Are you a theistic evolutionist?

Yes, Darwin’s 200th birthday has passed, but the “conflict” between faith and science has not (I’m pretty sure).

I wrote my FaithBeat column Saturday about the easy-to-miss phenomenon of religious folks embracing, or at least acknowledging, the theory of evolution. Of course, we should all know that this is the case, but science-deniers and God-deniers get a disproportionate amount of attention, don’t they?

I should note that the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a good overview on the history and current status of the Big Conflict. They even have a glossary of terms, which includes:


Social Darwinism – A belief that Darwin’s evolutionary theory can be applied to human society and that groups of people, just like life in the wild, are subject to “survival of the fittest.” The now discredited idea influenced many social theories and movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from laissez-faire capitalism to various eugenics movements.


Additionally, religion writer Mark Pinsky has a great story in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin about evangelical Christian scientists who embrace what he calls theistic evolution — “a God-created, billions-years-old universe.”

And some evangelicals, he writes, are embracing a form of environmentalism called — are you ready? — creation care.

Pinsky writes:

What happens in the minds of evangelical researchers who may find their religious faith and the scientific method in conflict? Some, like John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist, dismiss the question, saying, where research is concerned, there is no connection between his science and his faith. “I can’t tell the difference in research in physics done by a religious believer and that done by an atheist.” But he added, “If you see the world as a divine creation, that’s a further motive to explore its order.”

Thanks to USA TODAY’S Cathy Lynn Grossman for making me aware of Mark’s article.