Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Religion

Realizing the Power of Forgiveness

An article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times caught my eye. The piece, titled “Members of Kenyan Tribes Work Toward Reconciliation,” says that each Saturday, a few dozen Kenyans get together to forgive and ask to be forgiven:

“These traumatized victims of Kenya’s post-election clashes meet to talk, pray, sing and – they hope  – heal. More than half a dozen tribes are represented, including ones that attacked one another in the weeks after the disputed December 2007 presidential voting ignited long-simmering ethnic tensions. More than 1,000 Kenyans died in the clash.”

I found it so refreshing to learn that Kenyans are using the power of forgiveness to help heal. The article reminded me of a conversation I had last week with a Dominican priest I knew from my alma mater, Providence College. We talked about forgiveness and how it has played out during some of the world’s tragedies and in people’s day-to-day lives. Our conversation made me realize that sometimes simply believing in the idea of forgiveness can lead to a deeper understanding of forgiveness as a remedy for emotional pain, as a kind of grace that helps us to heal from the wounds of the past.

The priest I spoke with mentioned the book “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcends Tragedy,” which talks about the shootings at Amish schools on Oct. 2, 2006. That same day, the Amish forgave the gunman, who killed five girls, critically wounded others and then shot himself. People wondered how the Amish could forgive someone so quickly after what seemed like an unpardonable tragedy. I plan to read the book to learn more about why they forgave the gunman.

It seems as though the Amish and Kenyans could teach people a lot about what it means to genuinely forgive an enemy, avoid vengeance and, during troubling times, find grace.

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Reporting on Religious Angles in the Madoff Case

It’s a classic question: When is it relevant to include someone’s race, ethnicity or religion in a story?

Journalists covering the Bernard Madoff scandal were faced with this question when trying to decide how to cover the religious angle of the Madoff scheme. Many stories about Madoff talked about his hefty donations to Jewish organizations, and subsequently made reference to his religion. The Jewish community responded, fearing that Madoff’s wrongdoings, and journalists’ mention of Madoff’s religion, would perpetuate stereotypes about Jews being miserly and obsessed with money.

I wrote a Poynter Online column on Friday about this and tried to shed some light on how journalists can cover the religious aspect of the Madoff scheme. After reading a New York Times article about Jews’ response to the scheme, I decided to get in touch with Clark Hoyt, the Times‘ public editor, for the column. He wasn’t in the office on Friday, but he responded to some of my questions via e-mail. Here is the intro to my piece:

Mention the name Bernard Madoff and words like “fraud,” “money” and “Wall Street” probably come to mind. For many in the Jewish community, however, the Madoff scandal isn’t just a story that details a major scam; it’s a story that fuels ignorance about centuries-old stereotypes.

Madoff, who is Jewish, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jewish causes, which suffered significant financial losses as a result of his wrongdoings. He committed what’s called an “affinity fraud” — a scheme in which con-artists target their own ethnic, religious or professional groups.

Given the nature of such a fraud, those covering the Madoff case are faced with a challenging question: How do you report on the religion/ethnicity of a criminal and the group he’s affected without making it seem as though you’re perpetuating stereotypes?

[READ MORE …]

The article has gotten some interesting feedback.

How well do you think journalists have covered the religious angle of the Madoff scheme? Do you think it’s necessary for them to cover it?