How to Write a Hugely-Popular Piece for Huffington Post Religion

For theological and religious types, Huffington Post Religion (HuffPo) happens to be one of the more predominant avenues toward becoming involved in the online religious discussion. They typically feature big-name scholars and established bloggers, many of whom can be thought-provoking and helpful. But no one cares about that. The real traffic goes to another type of religion piece.

As I’ve read and followed their posts over the past few years, I’ve noticed a few tried and true themes and threads for writers interested in dominating the Christianity conversation traffic-wise. So for those seeking fortune and fame (okay, just fame), I thought I’d offer a few tips:

  1. Insist that “Evangelicalism needs to learn…” — Point out common conservative “Evangelical” mistakes. Anything from politics, theology, biblical interpretation, to proper attitudes towards the ecological crisis will do. Don’t worry too much about presenting the range of theological diversity, or nuanced conservative positions. That’s not the point. Just feed the popular narrative that anybody adopting the moniker ‘Evangelical’ is a backwoods, obtuse, un-progressive tool with enough passion, panache, and subtly restrained disdain. You’re right in the sweet spot.
  2. “I know because I used to be an Evangelical until…” — If you can do this as an ex/post-Evangelical, you get bonus points. Everybody expects a liberal mainliner to rail on Evangelicals, but as one newly converted from the fold carrying a message of sanity for your one-time peers, your story carries more authority. This is even more compelling if you can present a strong story of blindness, a crisis of conscience, or broken faith that led you to a liberating realization. Any sort of progressive coming-of-age tinge will make it that much stronger.
  3. Bravely Flirt with a Heresy — “Heresy” is a culturally sexy concept. Overturning stale, repressive orthodoxies, especially in the name of broader horizons, intellectual honesty, inclusiveness, and, of course, “compassion,” is the BEST. (That this is mostly done in the name of some new, unnamed progressive orthodoxy is neither here nor there.) There has to be the note of bravery—a willingness to risk the scorn of the conservative establishment (whose opinion you don’t really care about anyway). It’s a fine line to walk, but you can do it. I believe in you.
  4. Call Someone a Bigot — Don’t forget to forcefully assert that any religious conviction about moral or sexual issues stems from a fear of the Other, selfishness, and historical shortsightedness. Don’t bother differentiating between a principled-yet-compassionate moral stance and malicious bigotry; implying that the two are distinguishable phenomena doesn’t help the cause. Even if all it amounts to is a throwaway accusation buried in a middle paragraph that doesn’t advance the argument of your article one bit, get it in there. If, by the end of the piece, you haven’t labeled an enemy, you’ve failed.

About Derek Rishmawy

Derek Rishmawy is the Director of College and Young Adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, CA, serving college kids for the gospel. He’s been graciously adopted by the Triune God. That God has also seen fit to bless him with lovely wife named McKenna. He got his B.A. in Philosophy at UCI and his M.A. in Theological Studies (Biblical Studies) at APU. His passions are theology, the church, some philosophy, cultural criticism, and theology. He has been published at the Gospel Coalition, Mere Orthodoxy, and Out of Ur blog. He writes regularly at his Reformedish blog. You can connect on Facebook and can also follow him on Twitter at @DZRishmawy.

  • Bob Smietana

    They’ve picked up a number of my pieces.
    This one, about the parents of a disabled girl, got more than 7,500 comments.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/25/illness-gods-will-_n_2018975.html

  • http://www.4simpsons.wordpress.com/ Homer J

    Well said. And if you want to get kicked off HuffPo as a commenter, wade among the vile anti-Christian comments and offer polite but clear comments that make it clear that the authors should not be considered Christians. And use Bible verses in context. They hate that.

    In the same way that you wouldn’t take a bacon-loving, Jew-loving, Koran-denying, Mohammad-denying “Muslim” seriously, those authors shouldn’t be considered authentic Christians.

  • jcon526

    You are a talented writer, and this is quite cleverly written; however, no offense, but it gets a little too cheeky for comfort, I think. A little heavy with the us-vs-them humor.

    As for HuffPo, I’ve read articles on both sides of issues, and more than a few
    are hostile to any sort of Christian perspective. Yet even articles
    that promote Christianity can be turn-offs if I sense moments where
    complicated discussions are thoughtlessly reduced to black and white
    issues, and balanced viewpoints are dismissed in favor of snarky
    remarks.

    I get the impression that articles where the authors express themselves in an authentic way rather than simply penning a politically-motivated or proselytizing op-ed tend to be more constructive in the long run. Ira Glass is right in that people, not themes, make better stories.

  • Esther Starr

    Ha. Too true.

  • MorganGuyton

    Thanks for the nod. This has been my observation too. What I don’t understand is the fascination with post-evangelical navel gazing. Why do people get thousands of likes for writing about how they think they might be Anabaptist now with a trace of Greek Orthodoxy? I definitely talk too much about myself, but there are some Christian bloggers who REALLY talk too much about themselves and they get rewarded for doing so. Makes no sense to me.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    I dunno man. I know I’ve been guilty of it myself. I think part of it is the real appeal of story. Also, Alastair Roberts has a number of fascinating pieces on more popular modes of communication and their connection to advertising as well as a prevailing ethic of empathy. Regardless of what anybody thinks about Bell, this piece right here is genius:

    http://alastairadversaria.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/rob-bell-and-don-draper-the-ad-mans-gospel/

  • Eric Simpson

    Not true, man. I have tried ALL of these tactics, and still get few hits at the Huffington Post.

    Eric Simpson
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-simpson/

  • clyde

    jcon526, You also, are a gifted writer, and I appreciated your thoughts about complex discussions being reduced to black and white issues. “Cleverly” is an interesting choices of words. Juxtaposing authentic with proselytizing or politically-motivated feels equally clever, as though neither agenda could be truly authentic. The great stories of people (such as MLK) have “themes”: usually themes that include proselytizing and political motivations; encouragement to be bold, take a stand, stop doing this or start doing that. Proselytizing is a word, usually employed with negative connotations in our day, to remind Christians of two cardinal sins of our culture: 1) believing exclusive truth claims and 2) sharing those claims with another.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    Thank you for helping me remember that an orthodox, Evangelical, non-bigoted know-it-all can be just as big an asshole as a HuffPo blogger.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Good response!

    I think my favorite part was how you focused on my appearance and taste in food. The church’s mission statement I didn’t write because I’m just the college guy; if you’re looking for my theology, you’re probably better off with the Heidelberg Catechism (yes, sadly more of the Reformed kind of a@#hole). That said, working ‘bigoted’ in was also good too (way to use point #3 above.)
    I dunno, there’s just so much to praise.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    lol

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    Well, of course I originally lol’d because I thought you took it all in good humor, but I now see your edited response means I was wrong.

    On first responding, I tried originally to think of something charitable to say, but was at a loss. This is probably because I have journeyed in earnest through the long, dark, winding path of evangelicalism through many dark nights of the soul, and felt forced to leave it, but did so with fear and genuine sadness. I am still attempting to find where I belong as a result. What you write hear pokes fun. Nothing more. And it takes no talent to do that.

    I renew my objections to your general tone and content on reading your response here, but I won’t exchange pith with you any further.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    Wow. Censored by C and PC for saying the a word, I assume. That’s something. The last comment I made is worth repeating.

    I tried to respond charitably the first go-round, but was at a loss. That’s probably because I’ve walked down the long, winding, road of evangelicalism myself, through many dark nights of the soul. I felt forced to leave evangelicalism by conscience, but did so with earnest fear and genuine sadness. What you’ve done here is to poke fun at that painful journey. Nothing more. And it takes no talent to do that.

    I renew my objection to your general tone and commentary, but I won’t exchange pith with you any further.

  • BWF

    Actually, if a poster were to accuse the authors of outright lying, then said poster probably should be banned!

  • Glenn Peoples

    Evangelicalism needs to learn that caricatures, however much they resonate with the “hur-hur” mindset of its constituency, are really a way of isolating and demeaning their subject.

    I know because when I was an evangelical this sort of thing was standard fare, until I realised that the people I was portraying were people. They had sisters, mothers, brothers, fathers and lovers. People love them.

    As I look back on the way that I did what the author does here and feel like an alien from it, I contrast this with the sameness that we encounter in the Trinity. The Son was the Father with a new, kinder face, showing the real heart of God to us, certainly never “submitting” to the will of his Father and thus providing a model for the sanctified sexism of an evangelicalism that crucifies the weak, caricaturing and demonising them as less than human.

    Still, while it is easy to be disheartened by all of this, it is our love, our joy and our will to better the bigot by radiating the acceptance and freedom in we have, moving beyond older, darker ways of thinking and relating. Evangelicalism must change. Or die.

  • Hermonta Godwin

    Glenn,

    Do you make a distinction between a caricature and a stereotype? If so, how do you do such?

    As far as the Trinity goes, are you a modalist? I would like to see a defense of the non sexist version that you speak of. I say that honestly, even though I have disagreed with you since you left your evangelical background, but I do you think that you spend time thinking through your positions.

  • jcon526

    I was simply saying that we have an abundance of articles that tell people what to do: that this belief is wrong, that this issue is important, that people should do this or that.

    But articles that tell authentic stories tend to be more constructive. For instance, people may be more inclined to listen to an anti-abortion viewpoint if the author describes one’s own story with raising a child that they nearly aborted. However, I get turned off when I read a supposed “pro-life” article that hammers the “abortion is murder” argument but otherwise shows a moral ambivalence to other issues like war, health care, poverty, or corporate oppression.

    Even Jesus told parables … sometimes to obfuscate the truth, but also to illustrate moral concepts. That’s what I’m saying.

  • deadyetliving

    Ryan, your original comment was deleted because it did not fall within the guidelines of our comment policy, which can be seen via the link in the menu bar. Thanks!

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    Here here.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    Thanks for calling me a jerk.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    P.S. The author reached out to me via facebook. I find his personal communication much more gracious than his prose.

  • deadyetliving

    Primarily it’s about making it personal. This piece was about ideas, not individuals. If Derek called someone an asshole in his piece, we wouldn’t have published it.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    We’ll have to agree to disagree there. I think that’s precisely what he did, and you published it. That’s as charitably as I know how to put it.

  • S. L. Whitesell

    Next piece: how to elicit comments from another site’s writers. Step 1: mention that site by name in a straightforward piece with a snarky tone. Step 2: Open beer. Step 3: Wait.

  • Ryan Thomas Neace

    @deadyetliving:disqus, in an effort not to be a total troll here, I will concede that, the above having been my perception, I was wrong to respond in kind.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Glenn,

    I take it you didn’t like the piece? ;)

    That’s okay. It seems a number of people didn’t and satire will have that effect. To b clear, I meant I when I said this wasn’t ALL HuffPo authors. I do appreciate some of the work done over there.

    I must say I found this comment a bit ironic in a few ways, though:

    a. Poking fun, while not the highest of literary endeavors, also isn’t “demonizing” someone as less than human. In fact, part of the point of the article is to highlight how often SOME HuffPo writers do that to Evangelicals with enough frequency that its a noticable trend. Talking about “older, darker ways of thinking and relating” in Evangelicalism just kinda plays right into that and the “progressive tinge” element I noted.

    b. In the same vein, I find it interesting that you still managed to call me a bigot when one of my points was about how frequently bigotry is a charge thrown into articles just for good measure.

    c. Implying that my moral stance on sexuality is a form of sexism is also right off the list. Which moral stance, I’m not sure because I didn’t mention any, which only means you’re assuming a great deal about me.

    d. I truly have no idea where the Trinity stuff comes in or the “sanctified sexism.” I didn’t raise the issue of trinitarian theology, or put forward Jesus as an example of submission to justify some sexual program. That’s just read in. (Although, as long as we’re being strictly theological, the Son, at least in his humanity–and even saying that makes me feel Nestorian–renders willing obedience to his Father. That much the Gospels are clear on. Also, and this is me being picky, it’s not ‘sameness’ that you see in the Trinity, but an invitational Otherness. The God who is Three-in-One welcomes those who are distinctly other than Him into his holy and wholly beautiful life of love through the Gospel of Jesus.)

    All that to say, honestly, yes, some shots were fired, but this response kinda just plays into the stereotypes/trends I noted.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Glenn, I’m realizing this might have been satire. If so, you’re a genius and I love you. Also, I should never respond to anything before I’ve eaten breakfast.

  • deadyetliving

    Fair enough. We’ll agree to disagree! Thanks for reading though.

  • MtEmpire

    Brilliant. This is oh so true of Huff Post and its not-so-subtle agenda. It wants to acknowledge “religion” as having a “functional” role in society and culture, but their editorial tilt is such that anyone who really seriously believes the Nicene Creed has to be a deluded ideologue and an enemy of cultural “progress.”

  • MtEmpire

    Sorry jcon, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.

  • Susan Gerard

    For S.L. and anyone else interested in hearing what the author of this piece is saying: “I’ve noticed a few tried and true themes and threads for writers
    interested in dominating the Christianity conversation traffic-wise.”

    If traffic is what you want, these are good (and funny and true and troll-attracting) suggestions. If to discuss truth is what you want, the above will not serve you well.

  • MtEmpire

    Sounds more like your own new-found anti-Evangelical narrowness than a new-found generosity of spirit, Glenn.

  • Glenn Peoples

    Derek, when I read your first comment in reply I thought “Surely not…..” :-)

    Hermonta… have another look.

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    Your satiric skills were too impressive. I was taken in completely.

  • http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ SLIMJIM

    This was pretty hilarious. I know this is true of HuffPost’s religious posts because I use to read their page until Frankie Schaeffer got more and more bigoted in his ideology.

  • Glenn Peoples

    …. look at the instructions in this blog post. Then read my comment, where I deliberately follow those instructions.

  • Glenn Peoples

    Hermonta, my comment was an attempt to follow the instructions in this blog post. I wasn’t serious, and am still an Evangelical.


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