First, let's address the headline on Time's new story on President Donald Trump's efforts to free Americans held captive abroad: "The Art of the Hostage Deal."
Kudos to the magazine for a clever take on Trump's 1987 bestseller "The Art of the Deal."
Now, to the story itself: It's excellent. It's thoroughly reported and compellingly written. But that's no surprise given the byline: Elizabeth Dias. She's the Time correspondent who covers religion (often mixed with politics), and her Godbeat work has won frequent praise from GetReligion.
So yes, it's obvious that this is a fantastic piece of journalism. But is it my favorite Time piece from a religion reporting standpoint? If I'm honest, it's probably not. I'll explain why in a moment.
Before I get to that, a few readers may be wondering right about now: What exactly does hostage dealmaking have to do with religion anyway?
This story doesn't deal overtly with religion, but religion figures — at least figuratively — throughout the piece.
The first mention of church appears in the second paragraph of the graphic opening scene:
RIVERTON, Utah — Armed Venezuelan police stormed Thamara Candelo's apartment complex at dawn on June 30, 2016. It was two weeks after her wedding day, and Candelo's American husband, Joshua Holt, was lying in their bed in Caracas. One officer demanded to see his visa. Others ransacked the rooms, took Holt's phone and finally ordered him to get into a pickup truck. For the next five hours, his gun-toting captors mocked and hit him. Then they took him to the Helicoide, a prison home to the Venezuelan intelligence police. He has not been allowed out since.
Holt, 25, sent this account of his capture in a letter last August to his parents, who live south of Salt Lake City in his childhood home. It was only the beginning of an ordeal his family could never have fathomed when the young couple met online through their church that year. Holt was accused of arms possession, though witnesses told his family and lawyers that they watched agents plant firearms in the apartment after the arrest. He and Candelo have been held without trial. Five preliminary hearings have been canceled, with no explanation other than judges or courts were unavailable.
According to his family, Holt has lost more than 50 lb. subsisting on the prison's diet of uncooked chicken and raw pasta, meals former Helicoide inmates have claimed are mixed with feces. He was denied medical care for bronchitis, a kidney stone and pneumonia. When an infection spread from his jaw to his eye, authorities pulled a tooth and filled the hole with cement, right atop his exposed nerve. Holt became suicidal. On July 3, the 368th day of his imprisonment, he fell from his bunk when guards woke him, sustaining what his family fears was a concussion and a back fracture. "Demons stroll the hallways," Holt wrote of the prison. "I have been told by 10 or 20 people, prisoners and guards, that I am here because I am American."
Later, Time refers twice to families placing their "faith" in Trump.
Also, there's this note:
All this outreach from the highest levels of government is why Josh Holt's family believes Trump will be his savior. "Right after Trump's Inauguration, I thought, He's going to get him home," Josh's mother Laurie Holt tells TIME from her living room, where Faith - family - friends is stenciled above the window. Laurie was invited to the White House in April.
But the magazine never really explains why the families put "faith" in Trump and see him as a "savior." There's religious language but little in the way of religious explanation.
Later — after the magazine makes clear the Utah family's Mormon affiliation — Dias paints this vivid picture:
The Holts refuse to give up. Every so often, Laurie goes downstairs to dust her son's bedroom. It remains almost exactly as it was the day he left. A painting of Jesus hangs above the foot of his bed, where he wanted it to be so that he could see it first thing each morning.
But the magazine never really elaborates on the role of the Holt family's faith at this difficult time. I found myself wanting a quote or two along those lines.
My tiny nitpicks aside, though, I'll refer you back to what I said — and meant — way up high: This piece is thoroughly reported and compellingly written. It's definitely worth your time.