Frank Lockwood, the religion editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, did what The Washington Post's Alan Cooperman didn't do last week. He did what I didn't do last week. He actually cracked open the Institute for Religion and Democracy's booklet analyzing the funding of the National Council of Churches (disclosure notices here, here and here). The National Council of Churches is an association of 35 mainline denominations. IRD accuses the NCC of being beholden to liberal foundations more than the denominations it represents. Last week I disagreed with the way the Post handled IRD's charges. Anyway, Lockwood did some old-fashioned reading and he found an interesting contribution from one of the nation's biggest journalism foundations. It's a big, big, big, big, big journalism foundation. The Knight Foundation -- think Knight(-Ridder) newspapers -- gave $250,000 to the National Council of Churches. That was the fourth biggest donation that year to the NCC.
The Knight Foundation has two missions: to seed and inspire great journalism everywhere, and to build strong communities in the cities and towns where its founders ran newspapers.
So perhaps the grant was to help with local anti-poverty programs or to fund a special religious journalism internship? Lockwood finds something different entirely. Nope, the $250,000 is for Faithful America, an NCC program. Here's what the Knight Foundation says about its grant:
As a result of this initiative, mainstream faith leaders will be much better equipped with talking points, policy papers, intellectual support, prepared testimony, draft op-eds, sermons, study guides and church bulletins -- and more able to unite around a shared policy agenda. The faith-based policy dialogue in the United States will become more balanced and nuanced, since religious spokespersons will no longer be able to propound unsupported charges and theories without fear of rebuttal. Reporters, policymakers and faith leaders will be equipped to respond to such charges within news cycles or during a policy debate. Future leaders will gain experience and establish contacts and professional support networks while contributing to substantive research and advocacy.
You can look here for a list of the issues covered by Faithful America. They include talking points and papers on the living wage, the minimum wage, debt cancellation for developing countries, socialized health care, removing FEMA from the Homeland Security Department, and how homosexuality is not a sin (from a sexologist/Unitarian Universalist minister). Needless to say, liberal voices and political views are the only ones featured.
Question 1.) Is it a good idea for a journalism foundation to help fund talking points, sermons and draft op-ed pieces for a religious organization?
Question 2.) What are the chances that the Knight Foundation would give a similar grant to the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, Mormon Church or the National Association of Evangelicals?
Knight Foundation board members revisited their strategic plan a few times since 2000 and directed the staff to continue to fund journalism programs and provide support in the 26 communities that anchored Knight newspapers.
Some reporter should ask them what they're doing with the Faithful America initiative. Maybe the Knight Foundation could give them a grant to look into it.