In Bible Belt town split on immigration, passing glimpses of religious influence raise questions

As I mentioned in a recent post, Alabama ranks as the nation's second-most religious state after Mississippi, according to Gallup.

In a different post last year, I noted that Alabama's estimated 1.2 million Southern Baptists represent a quarter of the state's 4.8 million total residents. Overall, the state's number of evangelicals tops 2 million.

So yes, as I read an in-depth CNN story out today on an Alabama town split on immigration, I wondered what role faith would play in the text.

Here's the good news: The talented writer provides glimpses of religion that make it clear she understands its importance to the community.

Here's the bad news: Those glimpses are just that — glimpses. As in "a momentary or slight appearance," to quote one of the definitions. More on those glimpses in a moment.

But first, some background: Overall, it's a nice story — fair and balanced on the immigration issue itself. The CNN piece even includes a scene where a resident watches headlines on Fox News, which made me chuckle. The journalist does an excellent job of interviewing a wide variety of sources, giving each a voice and helping her audience understand where everyone is coming from. 

The story is set in Albertville, Ala., which CNN describes as "a largely white, working-class town." A quarter of its 22,000 residents are Hispanic, and immigrants make up thousands of the employees at its poultry processing plants. Five years ago, the town tried to crack down on illegal immigration, and CNN explores what has happened since.

Here's a nice scene with some excellent description from the piece: 

But it doesn't take long to see that tensions are still simmering.
Stop by the basketball court where Mexican workers are shooting hoops, and you'll hear how afraid they are that Donald Trump might be president, and what it was like a few years back when people couldn't get water or electricity in their homes unless they could prove they were here legally.
Sit for a moment in the Little League stands nearby, and a woman flipping through a coupon book as she leans back in a lawn chair will tell you how immigrants should stop speaking Spanish and sucking benefits from the system.
Step into a shopping mall off the busy four-lane highway through town, and you'll see immigrants searching for the right words in an English class as they talk with their teacher about what foods to eat on American holidays and how fast the cashiers speak at Walmart.
Cross the parking lot to visit the unemployment office, and you'll hear some people say the influx of immigrants gave the region's economy a boost, while others grumble it cost them their jobs.

But notice where the writer didn't go (at least in the text)? Don't you think a church visit might generate helpful detail for that scene?

As I mentioned, glimpses of religion show up.

For example, here:

Fox News anchors rattle off headlines on TV as Joe Lusk gets ready to dig into his breakfast. After a waitress places his plate on the table, he bows his head in prayer.
The 59-year-old fence company owner is a lifelong Albertville resident. And he often stops to eat at this family-run restaurant, where a sign hanging by the front door pays tribute to "Southern living, where the tea is sweet, our words are long, the days are warm and our faith is strong."

And here:

As she sells tomatoes, okra and black-eyed peas, Weldon says she usually tries to steer clear of arguments over immigration. It's one of those issues where people never seem willing to listen or change their minds.
Instead, she focuses on her children.
"I taught my kids to understand about different people, different ways to believe. I raised my children in church," she said. "We're not God. It's not our place to judge."

And here:

Nearby, she keeps a large Virgin of Guadalupe figure standing next to a big-screen TV.

But those glimpses do not give way to any substantial exploration of the religion angle.

Interestingly enough, an evangelical pastor and a Catholic priest are included in a scrolling collection of 14 photos at the top of the story. Below those photos are brief quotes from various people in Albertville. But neither the pastor nor the priest make the actual story. Strange.

Even in a 3,600-report such as this, a journalist must make tough decisions about what details and quotes to include. Perhaps religion didn't make the cut?

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