Why I can’t just “check my religion at the door”

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“When you come into work you leave your religion at the door,” a former boss told a group of us reporters during a staff meeting months ago.

My eyes were wide. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.

My mind flashed back to a devotional given years ago. The booming, powerful voice of one of the twelve apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Jeffery R. Holland, rang in my ears.

“You never check your religion at the door!”

The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me. All of this had started with the Mormon leader. I had come full circle.

I sat there reeling. If my boss had said, leave your race, your gender, your sexual orientation at the door, well, I can imagine the lawsuit that would follow.

But he hadn’t. He said religion. As if somehow, faith was less important than other characteristics that innately make up a person.

You don’t often think much about religious discrimination in a place like Rexburg, Idaho.

It just doesn’t happen, some might say. But a few months ago, I learned firsthand that Christians will be called to stand for what is right in some of the most unlikely places – including the heavily LDS populated town of Rexburg.

When it was announced that Holland would be speaking at Brigham Young University-Idaho, on a whim I contacted University Relations and requested an interview.

I was working as a reporter for a local news organization at the time, but was doubtful that an interview was even possible. Generally speaking, when a high profile leader for the LDS Church visits locations like BYU-Idaho on assignment, most of their time is calculatingly scheduled, leaving little time to sit down with the media.

I was shocked to receive a call a few days prior to Holland’s address informing me that I would get 10 minutes of his time.

Elation. I couldn’t believe the news.

This was the man that I sustained as a prophet twice a year at our church’s general conference.

This was the man who, after speaking to a large congregation of Latter-day Saints in Orlando, Florida that I happened to attend, gave me the courage to go on a proselyting mission.

This was the man who had spoken so many prophetic and inspired words that had bolstered my faith during challenging times, pointing me back to Jesus Christ.

After mentioning my golden opportunity to a boss, I found myself sitting in his office, all the joy and excitement leaking out of me.

He expressed to me his desire to ask Holland the “hard” questions. Questions that I felt were thoroughly inappropriate to ask in the short-term setting we would have, or indeed, of a man I sustained as a religious leader.

The questions surrounded controversial issues like women and the priesthood, and in my opinion, seemed more like an attack on the church than on hard-hitting journalistic inquiries. His proposed questions would have me publically question the integrity of the man that would sit in front of me.

Because I was a reporter, it wasn’t just me asking these questions inappropriate for a brief, 10-minute interview. I was representing a community. In essence, I would be saying, “We question your integrity, Elder Holland.”

And that I simply couldn’t do.

Though my boss assured me I would simply be a voice for the voiceless, I disagreed. I felt it came with a price, and compromised my own religious convictions.

I expressed these concerns to my boss, and left his office with a heavy decision weighing on my mind.

What was I to do?

I knew very well what I should do, I thought. I should absolutely not ask those questions.

But the conversation I had just had was still ringing in my ears.

“It’s your job,” a small, boss-like voice seemed to say.

And he was right. I had always taken pride in being that voice for the voiceless, in asking hard questions, in finding truth.

I had asked the hard questions before as I reported on countless stories about mental health, a financial crisis in education and concerns for open meeting violations in city government. The hard questions weren’t the issue. It was the morality of the questions that bothered me.

If I asked Holland these questions, I felt I would be betraying my faith. I would be betraying the sustaining vote I gave him and the other leaders of my church.

Are questions wrong? I asked myself. No. Is it wrong to question our leaders? No, because I don’t believe that God expects us to blindly follow. But the issue was rooted in one simple fact: I had already gained a testimony for myself on the questions I was told to ask. And I personally couldn’t ask the questions without feeling like I was betraying my faith.

So I prayed. And prayed. And cried. And prayed.

I knew what I needed to do. But the questions and the worry still came.

Would I lose my job? How mad would my boss be? How could I graciously stand up for what I believe without offending?

And then suddenly, there I was, shaking with nerves as I sat on the couch across from my hero, Elder Jeffery R. Holland.

I asked him about the missionary effort. We talked about the place for differing opinions in the church. We talked about how technology is changing our religious culture.

We talked about being strong; standing for our convictions.

I finished my questions, I attended his address, I wrote the story. My boss was clearly disappointed, but said very little.

Until a few weeks later at our monthly staff meeting.

I knew one of my boss’s comments were directed at me.

He told us we had to leave our personal issues aside, that we had jobs to do.

“When you come into work, you leave your religion at the door,” he said.

I sat there firmly, resolutely grateful for the decision I had made.

For me, my religion, my faith and my ability to practice that faith is everything.

Eventually, I left the news organization, largely in part of this experience.

And I have no regrets.

Because in the end, it wasn’t hard to decide to stand for what was right.

Because in the end, my interview with Holland taught me something so valuable.

Sometimes, we have to stand up for our beliefs even when unintentional offense will be present. The price of discipleship is not cheap.

I certainly don’t think poorly of my old bosses. I just believe in a way different than they do. And for me, living that belief would never allow me to “leave my religion at the door.”

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Why I can’t just “check my religion at the door”

  1. No. I’m sorry. As a journalist it is absolutely imperative that you check ALL biases at the door. Asking hard questions of a religious leader you respect does not prevent you from practicing your religion. Throwing softball questions because you don’t want to upset your interview subject, however, prevents you from practicing good journalism. If it bothered you that much, you should have claimed conflict of interest so the interview could be reassigned.
    I get it. It’s HARD. Being objective, an observer, a stenographer, keeping yourself out of the story is hard. Everyone has biases. Even good journalists see things through colored lenses, and they make mistakes and let their vision color their reporting. Good journalists are also aware of that and willingly accept the daily struggle in order to report the whole story, not just the parts they like. To do any less suggests a lack of respect and trust in the readers’/viewers’ critical thinking skills — and a lack of respect for the journalism professional itself.
    You should know better. You should have been taught better.

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