Posted on May 22nd, 2013 | Filed under Community, Interfaith, News, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Topic of the Week
Tagged with assumptions, authenticity, Blitzer, Interfaith dialogue, journalism, Oklahoma, theonormativity, transparency
Wolf Blitzer – prized journalist for CNN – made what some are affectionately referring to as a ‘teachable moment’ when he asked an atheist survivor (Rebecca Vitsmun) of the Moore, OK tornado:
‘You've gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?’
‘I – I’m actually an atheist,’ Vitsmun replies.
Noticeably tripped-up, Blitzer quickly back-pedalled and offered her congratulations for making the decision herself which saved her and her child’s lives. Rather than soap-box, or get offended, or even slighted – Vitsmun graciously extended the following: ‘We are here, and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord.’
This interaction can stand as representative of many things. That journalists ‘should' keep their own worldview out of reporting. That they ‘should’ check their assumptions at the door. That theonormative assumptions should be allowed – or – that theonormative assumptions need to be challenged at every turn.
Most importantly, in my perspective, is that this piece is a great example of authentic, interfaith dialogue. Both parties accurately, transparently, unapologetically, and non-evangelically represented their position. Neither – overtly – held aims or intents of offending or persuading the other. Blitzer didn’t badger Vitsmun into thanking – his signifier of – the Lord; Vitsmun didn’t harangue Blitzer for proffering a theonormative assumption.
Instead, both parties recognized the others’ position, whilst retaining their own. They dialogued around a centrally-connecting, human-impacting circumstance modelling grace, humility, and acceptance of divergence.
Perhaps this interaction will cause a stir in news broadcasting. Perhaps Blitzer will have a behind-the-doors conversation with his editor. Perhaps Vitsmun will suffer criticism or microaggressions by people in her community who may not have previously known of her atheist perspective.
For the time being, I would like to applaud both of them for their unapologetic – if unplanned – example of genial, interfaith dialogue.
Joseph is a professor, Quaker, husband, and friend. He teaches anthropology and humanities courses for a liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. He commutes by bike, plays guitar, and enjoys fine Scotch, wines, and foods with his wife. Current projects include: Workshop seminars on the intersection of Christian Theology and Western Pop-Culture; Collaborative immersion projects for students within religious communities divergent to their own.