I found myself on the receiving end of some fellow reporters’ questions last year when they called to inquire about the spokesman for a prominent ministry in the news. Knowing my evangelical background, they asked: “Is he a Christian? He doesn’t act like one.”

Those news writers didn’t have seminary degrees, but they knew that Christians should exhibit some kindness and self-control. And the bullying phone manners of the spokesman had given little evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, putting me in the awkward spot of trying to draw a distinction between what his organization preached and what he practiced.

There is a legitimate complaint that the news media often distort or ignore religion. But if religion wants to be covered as part of the fabric of daily life, those who speak for it need better media savvy. That means understanding the causes of the frequent tension between the news media and organized religion, and exploring some solutions.

Not too long ago, media relations meant having a church secretary write coherent press releases for the local paper’s religion pages. Newspapers and broadcasters relied on a few established Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish spokespersons to give the “religious” point of view on the news.

All that has changed. Religious movements and organizations have grown more complex and moved out of their institutional ghettos. And they have a lot to offer. Regrettably, their media relations lag a generation behind, often due to inattention and ignorance.

It is unfair to regard all newspeople alike or view them as “secular humanist” conspirators, just as it is wrong when a news article tars all believers with the broad brush of scandal. Radio, television, newspapers, and magazines differ in their approach ...

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