There are three guides - journalists with a love for prophetic witness - who I want to praise today and encourage you to check out on a regular basis. I have relied on these three souls weekly to tell me where to look, who to listen to, and how to think about how faith informs public life and vice versa.
The Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy hails from Monroe, Louisiana, hometown of Duck Dynasty, where he is pastor of Northminster Church and hosts State of Belief, a weekly one-hour talk radio show that highlights stories and perspectives of progressive people of faith.
Many of you have heard me tell the story of when I first heard Welton's interview of country singer Chely Wright. I was scrolling through my daily dose of podcasts - ten or so one-hour shows - intending to listen to each for about a minute to "get the gist" and be sure I wasn't missing anything I had to hear. As I boarded the elevator to my office, I was pleased that I had just enough time to dip into my last show on the podcast queue so that I could call it a day by the time I reached my floor. When the elevator doors opened, tears were streaming down my face. I walked into my office, closed the door, and was riveted for the entire hour.
Pastor Gaddy is a hero, giving voice to surprising prophets ... in the heart of the Bible Belt.
Two things occurred to me after listening to that interview.
- Country singers have a lot to teach faith leaders about how, in just a few brief minutes, you can pack a compelling story, God-talk, and a memorable one-liner repeated regularly enough so that it actually sinks in.
- Pastor Gaddy is a hero, giving voice to surprising prophets - Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Secular Humanists - in the heart of the Bible Belt in ways that are particularly well positioned to open hearts and minds. And it's important to acknowledge that behind every good journalist is at least one good editor or producer. In Welton's case, hat's off to the wickedly smart Ray Kirstein.
Listening to On Being each week is sacred time for me. Often, it is the first place I hear the voices of the teachers, preachers, and prophets of our time. I remember the first time I ever heard Rabbi Sharon Brous, recently named #1 American Rabbi of the Year by Newsweek/Daily Beast. It was on Krista Tippett's show in 2007 back when it was calledSpeaking of Faith. I couldn't believe such young fresh faith leaders, steeped in a love affair with God and sacred text, existed in this generation.
Krista's show brought church, seminary, and revelation to me that morning, all in one hour.
I will never forget the Easter week day I was riding to work up the West Side Highway bike path, podcasting On Being and listening to Armenian Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian talk about gardening and the meaning of life as the flowers bloomed on the ground below and in the tree branches above me. Krista's show brought church, seminary, and revelation to me that morning, all in one hour as I rode my bike. I want also to acknowledge the exceptional eye and ear of producer Trent Gillis whose work on the On Being website and weekly show privileges the beautiful in a way that is unfortunately all too rare.
And then there's Melissa Harris-Perry. I will never forget the episode when Melissa booked the Rev. Matthew Westfox to talk about reproductive justice. Matthew had aced the interview and even made The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel reconsider the merit of religious testimony on the matter. After doing so, however, Katrina disclaimed that, of course, she herself was not a religious person. Melissa, for all MSNBC listeners to hear, jumped in to say that she, Melissa, is a religious person and then delved into the ethics, politics, and stories with a heart bending toward the vulnerable, the people whose lives are most directly affected by the debate.
Melissa is a religious person who delves into ethics, politics, and stories with a heart bending toward the vulnerable.
Recently, a bunch of us religious types were down in Winston-Salem for the Moral Mondays March to fight voter suppression. We saw Melissa interviewing all kinds of demonstrators, as well as the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the movement's architect and spiritual guide. When Melissa saw us - some of whom had been on her show - she threw her arms open and then invited our whole crew over to her home, which happens to be in Winston. A more generous spirit I have yet to meet, and her producer Eric Salzman seems equally so.
Getting our voices of faith and moral courage out to the widest audiences is done in partnership with courageous, tireless journalists who are willing and able to navigate the tricky waters of corporate media.
From Oprah to Moyers, Tavis to Colbert and Jon Stewart, Laurie Goodstein to Michel Martin, Rachel Zoll and all who report week in and week out so that we may be educated and inspired, let us give thanks and praise.
When they get it wrong, let us be their partners so that they might get it right the next time. When they get it right, which they so often do, let us spread their good work throughout our communities, so that more may listen, learn, and act.
Finally, let us spread word of our appreciation to the companies where our favorite journalists work so that those who hire, fire, and promote know that with good journalism comes good audiences.