A Bible Belt mayor, an extramarital affair and a newspaper savvy enough to cover the religion angle

When the dateline on a news story is Nashville, Tenn., there isn't always a religion angle.

But almost always?

Yes, that's a pretty safe statement. At least was the case during the year I spent in that Bible Belt state capital, covering faith and politics for The Associated Press.

In late 2015, I praised The Tennessean's decision to hire a full-time religion writer — Holly Meyer — after eliminating the position when veteran journalist Bob Smietana left the paper in 2013. In my post two years ago, I proclaimed:

The prodigal Godbeat has come home to Music City!

The USA Today Network publication's investment in Meyer and religion journalism expertise keeps paying dividends. The most recent example came last week after Nashville Mayor Megan Barry confessed to an extramarital affair.

Way up high in the initial main news story on Barry's affair, quotes attributed to the mayor hinted strongly at holy ghosts:

Mayor Megan Barry said Wednesday she had an extramarital affair with the police officer in charge of her security detail, an extraordinary admission that rocks the popular Nashville mayor's first term.
Barry, in an interview with The Tennessean on Wednesday afternoon, apologized "for the harm I've done to the people I love and the people who counted on me" but said she won't be resigning. 
She confirmed the affair with Metro police Sgt. Robert Forrest Jr., which began in the spring or summer of 2016, just months after she entered office the previous fall. Forrest submitted his retirement papers Jan. 17. His final day was Wednesday. 
"We had an affair, and it was wrong, and we shouldn't have done it," Barry, a Democrat, said, looking down as she spoke softly and slowly. "He was part of my security detail, and as part of that responsibility, I should have gone to the (police) chief, and I should have said what was going on, and that was a mistake.
"People that we admire can also be flawed humans, and I'm flawed, and I'm incredibly sad and sorry for the disappointment that I will see in those little girls' faces. But, what I hope they can also see is that people make mistakes, and you move on from those."

But just a bit later in the story — directly from the mayor's mouth — came this specific reference to the Almighty:

"I know that God's going to forgive me, but the citizens of Nashville don't have to," Barry said. "My hope is that I can earn their forgiveness, and I can earn back their trust, and we can do the great work for this city that Nashville deserves."

Forgive.

I believe there was a country song out of, yes, Nashville that described that as "a mighty big word."

But I digress.

Back to the point: When I saw Barry's quote, I immediately wanted to know more about the mayor's professed faith. However, I got to the end of the story and didn't find any elaboration. That disappointed me. 

At the same time, I was confident that Meyer — Godbeat pro that she is — would spot the same quote I did and jump all over it. And — no big surprise here — she did:

That tweet is from Meyer's editor at The Tennessean. I found it searching for the link in Twitter. It's humorous how closely his statement — which I hadn't seen previously — aligns with what I said at the beginning of this post.

I've written too much already, but suffice it to say that Meyer does a nice job of interviewing religious experts on forgiveness related to the mayor's situation. Also, she provides some background on Barry's religion for those not familiar with her history:

Barry, who grew up in a big Catholic family, said in an interview during her 2015 mayoral campaign that when she needs some "spiritual uplift," she goes to the cathedral.

And more insight:

During the campaign, Mitchell helped Barry quell rumors she was an atheist. He introduced her at an August 2015 event at Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church, where Barry professed her Christian faith. Those in attendance encircled their future mayor and laid hands on her in prayer.

Religion is just one aspect of a major political story that has Tennessean readers paying close attention, but it's an important one. Meyers' piece is the kind of story that in a city that has abandoned the religion beat — looking at you, Dallas Morning News — might fall through the cracks.

So one more time, please allow me to thank The Tennessean and its top editors for recognizing the crucial nature of the Godbeat.

As for Holly Meyer, here's my message for her: Keep up the good work!

P.S. It's interesting to note that The Tennessean clearly notes the marital status of both parties involved in the affair. Although perhaps it's not an apples-to-apples comparison, that has not been the case in some major newspapers' #MeToo stories, as former GetReligion contributor Mollie Hemingway noted:

 

 

 

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