The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

Seattle University is one of those institutions that conservative Catholics love to hate.

Not only does the Jesuit school host an annual Lavender Celebration that has honors such as the “Sylvia Rivera Award for Queer Activism,” but it includes faculty who write books such as “A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion.” Alhough it's odd that a Muslim cleric might feel at home there,  what is interesting is that the story about this imam first ran in the Oregonian.

The premise of Abdullah Polovina's story sounds like the start of a bar joke:
A Muslim imam walks into a Catholic university...
Except it's true. Polovina, who leads a congregation of Bosnian Muslims in Portland, did walk into a Catholic university.
And in June, he'll walk out to "Pomp and Circumstance." The 41-year-old recently completed a master's degree at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry, where he was the first Muslim to ever enroll.
"I was looking for a place to be accepted as myself and to be the true face of Islam, though I am not the best follower," Polovina said.

I first spotted this story in a Washington state newspaper, which had picked it up because there’s a reporter at “the Big O” who has reinvigorated the religion beat. Or the “faith and values” beat, as they call it. Whatever.

Melissa Binder is a fairly recent college grad (University of North Carolina -- Chapel Hill) who moved west almost two years ago, worked a metro beat for awhile, then petitioned the higher ups to give her a chance to revive the religion beat.

The Oregonian has had Godbeat reporters in the past, including Velma Clyde in the 1970s and Mark O’Keefe, whose award-winning 1998 series on worldwide persecution of Christians was a high point for God coverage in the Beaver State. Since then, the beat has faded, never regaining the heights to which O’Keefe took it.

Oregon has consistently scored in the top five of least-religious states but more recent data has shown spiritual interests in 61 percent of the state’s residents. And so while other reporters might jump in with the occasional religion story -- including my brother Steve Duin whose metro column touches more than a few times on religion -- the beat itself hasn’t gotten a whole lot of TLC.

From what I can tell, Binder has jumped right in, writing up everything from LGBT Christians to the latest on “The Shack” author William Paul Young who lives just outside of Portland.

So back to Polovina. There’s a few things I would have liked to have seen in this story. The Seattle Times quoted the imam in 2012 as opposing gay marriage, so I’m curious what he thought of the Lavender Celebrations and the school’s gay-affirming atmosphere. I’d like to know what sort of classes he took in the theology school, which is taking credit for breaking the story on him. And I hope the folks who run the Oregonian's newsroom can free Melissa Binder up from having to blog tons of faith/values click bait long enough to do thoughtful pieces of the sort that have won the newspaper eight Pulitzer prizes.

Religion stories can win journalism's highest honor. Just ask the Boston Globe.

Photo via Jeremy Dunham Photo

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