Time for another 5Q+1 session. If Russell Chandler, retired from the Los Angeles Times, is one of the gold-standard names in traditional religion-beat work, then our second subject represents a much edgier style of reporting from the post-1960s alternative press. The work being done by Julie Lyons in her Bible Girl columns at the Dallas Observer represents a kind of neo-European, advocacy version of the Godbeat in modern niche media.
Lyons is in her mid-40s and a native of Milwaukee. She received a B.A. in English from Seattle Pacific University and an M.S. in journalism from Northwestern University. Bible Girl and her husband are on the pastoral staff of The Body of Christ Assembly in South Dallas, where, she says she "speaks in tongues, early and often."
Lyons has been editor of the Observer for 11 years. The newspaper is owned by Village Voice Media and, surely, she is the only Pentecostal editor in that chain. Lyons said that she started writing Bible Girl in August 2006 after an argument with her blog editor, who didn't think she was writing enough for the staff blog. Bible Girl, she says, draws more posted comments than anything else the newspaper publishes, online or in print.
Well, this newspaper is in Dallas, after all. People there want to read about religion.
(1) Where do you get your news about religion?
Charisma (especially J. Lee Grady) and Christianity Today magazines; www.getreligion.org (really) and Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog for Beliefnet; Bible Girl readers who e-mail me or post comments; The Dallas Morning News (especially religion writer Jeffrey Weiss) and its religion blog (www.religion.beloblog.com); The New York Times; the religion-related blogs of some writer friends of mine (such as Sandi Glahn: www.aspire2.blogspot.com); but mostly, from being deeply involved in an evangelical church and talking to a lot of people.
(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just do not get?
The mainstream media barely have a clue about Pentecostals and how they're transforming and impacting evangelical Christianity all over the world. They don't understand: (a) the tremendous variety of traditions and beliefs within the Pentecostal-holiness movement; (b) Pentecostalism's departure from the Western, rationalistic expressions of Christianity we're most familiar with; (c) the concern for racial and ethnic reconciliation that still lies at the movement's core; (d) the emphasis within Pentecostalism on active, practical faith over biblical minutiae; (e) why Pentecostalism is catching on in places in the developing world where non-Pentecostal clergy once decried the shallowness and/or scarcity of Christian conversions; (f) the fact that we're not superstitious ignoramuses or tongue-babbling loonies.
(3) What is the story that you will be watching carefully in the next year or two?
How African Pentecostals are calling the Pentecostal movement back to its holiness roots, and a somewhat related story -- how Pentecostals are dealing (or not dealing) with the many lurid sexual and financial scandals in their midst.
(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?
There's a reason why people go to all those churches, and it's not because they're stupid or pathetic. Their faith is the driving force in their lives; it's as real to them as whether they're black or white, male or female. Even more real.
(5) What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately?
Sad to say, I haven't come across much that's funny or ironic lately in my reporting and reading. Just some of the most sordid and bizarre scandals involving clergy -- stuff I couldn't make up if I tried. That's ironic when it involves leading lights in the so-called holiness churches, but it sure ain't funny.
BONUS: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?
Religion coverage may not be selling a lot of ads, but it's essential to understanding the communities you report on. Get out there and spend some time in churches, from the biggest to the smallest. Understand what makes believers tick -- their concerns, their hopes, why they do what they do. Stop relying on quotes from the same list of church leaders.
And while you're out there, answer me this: Why does every dish at the church potluck feature noodles?
Lyons asked us not to use her photograph, because she is doing some undercover work at the moment. To understand the symbolism of her logo, check out this highly personal, take-no-prisoners "Bible Girl" column.