Every Sunday, and sometimes throughout the week, the Dallas Morning News’ Living Our Faith series brings together writers to present their views about God, love, justice, struggle, doubt and redemption. Contributors from various religions, as well as no religion at all, explain their beliefs in the newspaper’s opinion section.

The pieces make for fascinating reading about ultimate values. Equally important, they present an opportunity for people to work out their conflicting views of the world. That includes the many readers who share their own perspectives in letters to the editor.

As citizens, the writers and those of us reading along meet up each week in the journalistic version of a town green to debate and discuss our differences. In return, pluralism flourishes, which is a great domestic need for our polarized times. We need more places where Americans can gather to present and defend their beliefs, while simultaneously hearing and attempting to understand contrasting opinions. My colleagues Lindsay Lloyd and Chris Walsh and I certainly hear frequently about this need in our online Democracy Talks series.

The media may not jump to mind when thinking about places to work through our differences, including our religious differences. Some Americans consider journalists a threat to society, even enemies of the state.

When done right, though, journalism can create a common public square, along with a reliable flow of information. Elizabeth Souder, the Dallas Morning News editor who started Living Our Faith, says she became exposed to intentional exchanges while working for a global consulting firm. She and a Muslim colleague began discussing their religious views. An Episcopalian who attended evangelical churches in her youth, Souder learned about Islam from her co-worker and vice versa.

Fast forward to the Morning News, where the section Souder launched is an equally intentional but community-wide exchange of beliefs. She says the experience has affirmed the idea that readers want to think about God.

Hers is hardly the only newspaper to have hosted discussions about religious values. The Washington Post, for example, once published the On Faith blog as a way for participants to respectfully present their views. (When I worked at The Dallas Morning News, three colleagues and I moderated a weekly Texas Faith blog, where contributors applied their beliefs to larger public concerns.)

Today, some newspapers, broadcast operations and news sites carve out space for discussing and understanding religion. The New York Times’ Ruth Graham covers religion as a beat. So does Fox News’ Lauren Green. Columnists like The Washington Post’s Michael Gerson and E.J. Dionne Jr., The Dispatch’s David French, and The New York Times’ Ross Douthat, Esau McCaulley, Tish Harrison Warren, Pete Wehner and David Brooks delve regularly into the intersection between faith and culture. The same is true with Dallas Morning News editorial writer Ryan Sanders and frequent Morning News contributor Peggy Wehmeyer, a former ABC News religion reporter.

Still, news organizations know that religion coverage must pay for itself. The Morning News abandoned its award-winning religion section as newspapers encountered the internet and declining revenues. Dwindling resources make religion coverage all the more difficult.

Despite that reality, those of us interested in the cause of pluralism in general and religion pluralism in particular should hope that more opportunities arise for writers and readers to meet in a journalistic town square. Extremists who live in their narrow universe too often act out their differences in the most egregious, even deadly, ways. We saw an example of this most recently in the hate-filled attack in Buffalo, N.Y., and earlier this year in the hostage-taking in a Colleyville, Texas, synagogue.

A less threatening but nonetheless important challenge is getting people with sharply different views within the same denomination or strain of a religion to respect one another’s beliefs. The tension between mainline Protestants and evangelical Protestants serves as one example. The debate within many faith traditions over abortion and gender identity is another one.

Unfortunately, you can find an abundance of examples where people do not discuss religious differences in a way that strengthens our democracy. But the media are one place where civil dialogue can occur, whether through a forum like Living Our Faith or quality reporting that allows conflicting voices to present their views. Such work strengthens the bonds that hold a democracy together, especially at the local level.

At the same time, journalists get the opportunity to connect with audiences that feel neglected or underrepresented in reporting or commentaries. By normalizing different views, including within a faith tradition, journalists create safe spaces for respectful dialogue to occur. That ultimately strengthens the relationship between journalism organizations and the publics they serve.

William McKenzie is senior editorial adviser at the George W. Bush Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.





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