Godbeat time travel: Check out these religion-news feature ideas from 43 years ago

Decades ago, award-winning Houston Chronicle religion writer Janice Law left the beat after a major ruckus with her editors. She became an attorney, judge, author and lately the founder of D.C.’s American Women Writers National Museum. While cleaning out clutter recently she came across a Religion Newswriters Association “News Letter” from 1974 and mailed it to the Religion Guy for a look.

Nostalgia flowed while reading about patriarchal mentors George Cornell of The AP and competitor Louis Cassels of UPI, who had just died all too young at age 52, succeeded by David Anderson. Anybody out there remember the bylines of other valued colleagues mentioned in the issue? Try these -- Jim Adams, Jim Bowman, Betty Brenner, Ken Briggs, Russ Chandler, Larry Cohen, Virginia Culver, John Dart, Bill Folger, Marjorie Hyer, Ben Kaufman, Lee Kelly, Betty Medsger, Louis Moore, Dorothy Newell, W.A. (Bill) Reed,  Dave Runge, Bob Schwartz, Lee Steele, Dan Thrapp, Hiley Ward, Bill Wineke.

At the time, The Guy was running RNA’s annual contests and 158 newswriters had submitted collections of articles from 1973. There were spot stories, local angles on national disputes, reaction roundups (e.g., Jews, Christians and Muslims addressing the latest Mideast crisis) and other standard fare. Sally Priesand, vastly covered as America’s first woman rabbi, won that year’s “Flack Award.”

The Guy listed features from the entries for an “idea exchange” that’s interesting from a 43-year perspective. Some might even work today. A sampling: 

* What do pastors say to parents of a dying, dead, or deformed child? Similarly, pondering why God doesn’t intervene in peoples’ troublesome situations.

* Asking local clergy what’s most encouraging about America’s current “moral and intellectual makeup?”

* Inquiring photographer’s topic: “Why are there so many different religions?”

* What’s the evidence outside the Bible that Jesus existed?

* Eliminating masculine terminology from church documents.

* Congregations adopting energy-saving ideas.

* The developing hymnody of the new “Charismatic” movement.

* Why some churches still oppose Masonic lodges.

* Religious theme parks (the Bakkers’ famously infamous Heritage USA was several years away)

* New technologies creating threats to traditional ethics.

* Anniversary analyses, e.g. 10 years after the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “March on Washington,” and 25 years of existence for the World Council of Churches.

* The shifting denominational makeup of local neighborhoods.

* The importance of ushers for black congregations. Also, black Catholics’ struggle for acceptance and power.

* How religion is taught in public schools.

* Why several busy civic leaders take time for church work.

* First graders’ views of heaven.

* How Adventists manage without meat.

* Should religion be considered in adoptions?

* Criticism of a pastor who won’t perform weddings for non-members.

* Mormon folkways (storing a year’s worth of food, Family Home Evening). Also, Utah as a mission field for non-Mormons.

* What Bible translations and editions do churches now choose, and why?

* Ministers’ pay, including actual numbers from local churches!  Also, do pastors really ever get a “day of rest” and what do they do with it?

* Are Americans losing interest in religion? Also, gimmicks to boost church attendance, futurologists mulling religion’s prospects, and church dropouts telling why they did so. (Yes, there were “Nones” in those bygone days.)

* Offbeat favorite: Spiritual graffiti carved into college desktops.

What topics still work?

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