Let me be candid for a moment: Some of the implications of the topics we discussed in this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) blindsided me and, toward the end of the session with host Todd Wilken, I got rather emotional.
We are talking about two things -- one in journalism, one in religious faith -- that I believe are tragedies.
First, we have the fact that Americans these days are not very interested in world news. Any journalist in the past third of a century or so who has looked at reader-interest polling knows this. As a rule, Americans don't know much about what is happening around the world and we are not all that worried that we don't know it. In my experience, this includes readers who are religious believers as well, I am afraid. Hold that thought.
This sad reality has, during the Internet-driven advertising crisis that is shaking the world of journalism, led media managers to make major cuts in the resources they dedicate to foreign news, as opposed to click-bait celebrity coverage and national political horse races.
The second thing that jumped into this discussion -- #NoSurprise -- is that many journalists just don't get religion. In light of the realities just discussed, they have little incentive to spend much time or money covering complex religious issues on the other side of the world.
This obvious fact led to another sad theme in our discussion: Some of the powerful newsrooms that DO have the resources to cover world news (and are justifiably proud that they do this crucial work) also seem to place little value on getting religion. Let me stress that I am talking about their editors and foreign staffers, not the one or at most two people on the religion beat at The New York Times, the BBC and other elite and truly world-class operations.
This brings us to #ChibokGirls and the subject of persecuted Christians, and members of other religious minorities, around the world.
Connect the dots. Why do American Christians seem to care so little about their suffering sisters and brothers in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world? Well, part of the problem is that they, like other Americans, don't spend much time consuming foreign news.
Here comes the Catch-22.
Is it likely that your average pew- or pulpit-person in middle America is going to turn to organizations such as the Times and BBC for their news anyway? Do they trust or distrust these journalists? Besides, are these news organizations interested in the concerns of religious minorities or believers in general? Do these news professionals -- as noted by some of their leaders (see here and then here) -- often struggle to understand the role religion plays in the world?
So do many journalists realize that most of the #ChibokGirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram were Christians?
Why should they know?
Other than good journalism, what is their incentive to know?
Do many Christians in America and elsewhere in the West know that most of of the #ChibokGirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram were Christians?
How would they know?
Do they trust the journalists who have the resources to report that kind of information?
Thus, as a journalist who cares about quality coverage of both religion and foreign news, AS WELL an Eastern Orthodox Christian (thus tied by tradition and sacraments to lots of believers dying at the hands if ISIS in the Middle East), I can get pretty emotional when you put these subjects together.
In terms of a specific, I am still rather upset about that (lazy or intentional) mistake in the Times the other day, the one I mentioned in my post called "New York Times omits crucial faith detail when covering release of some #ChibokGirls." You may recall that an updated Times report on this topic included a strange wording that -- in terms of basic grammar -- seemed to imply that the Chibok girls were already Muslims.
Once again, remember those famous videos of the Chibok girls, soon after they were kidnapped, sitting in a clearing -- all dressed in hijabs and quoting verses from the Quran in Arabic. The girls, as the BBC put it, had been "encouraged" to convert to Islam.
But in this new Times report there was this:
Yet it was the singular act in Chibok that trained the world’s sights on this war in Nigeria. Images broadcast by Boko Haram not long after the kidnapping of the veiled girls sitting on the ground in captivity resonated with celebrities and everyday people alike and spread across social media, where a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag became popular.
The girls were veiled when they were kidnapped? They were already Muslims? Of course not. I suspect this was a grammatical error, but it still needs to be corrected.
You know that many Christians would be infuriated by that mistake -- uncorrected at this point -- in the world's most powerful newspaper. They might even want to contact Times editors and express their concerns.
Of course, that would require American believers to know that the #ChibokGirls exist. That would require knowing that they were forced to covert to Islam. That would require reading the Times or similar publications and taking seriously their crucial social role in public life. They would also have to believe that Times editors would listen.
Sorry. I am getting emotional again. We are talking Catch-22 after Catch-22.
So enjoy the podcast and, if I may request this, please share it with editors you know (or should know) AND with religious leaders whose paths you cross.
Persecuted believers around the world are dying because of this blindspot in the news and in the minds of many religious believers in the West. This is, you see, a blind spot with two sides.