When pirates meet spiritual zeal

We’ve had quite a few reader submissions of stories covering the murder of four Americans by Somali pirates. The coverage is really all over the map. Much of it is good, some is a bit weak. This New York Times story, for instance, has six reporters but is unable to give anything other than the slightest passing reference to the religion angle. That failure led to confusion as the very first comment to the piece — and many others — asked what in the world they were doing in pirate-infested waters.

But other outlets have worked to give readers a better understand of Jean and Scott Adam and their work. Take this USA Today piece which put this section at the top of its report about the murders:

They had a custom-made yacht called the Quest, and all the charts, satellite phones, and high-tech navigation expected of modern seafarers. Yet they were propelled by an even deeper spiritual zeal — the same one that had prompted Scott Adam, 70, to leave his work behind the cameras of Hollywood for the ministry 15 years earlier.

“We seek fertile ground for the Word and homes for our Bibles,” the couple wrote on a website where, like in captain logs of old, they documented their voyages and their mission to spread Christianity through distribution of printed Bibles.

By far the best article I’ve read on the Adams was in the Los Angeles Times. Scott Gold, Martha Groves and David S. Cloud wrote (with the help of seven other contributors!) a comprehensive, informative and touching story. Religion is there from the beginning to the end — presumably because that’s where the story led the reporters. Here’s a sample:

Such a jarring end to what had seemed a charmed life devastated scores of people around Southern California, in the array of communities they touched — at Fuller Theological Seminary, where Scott Adam was a long-time student; in the television industry, where he had worked in production and direction; among patients Jean Adam had treated as a dentist; and in Marina del Rey, where the couple hosted deck-top dinners and holiday parties with Christmas lights wound through the rigging of their yacht.

At St. Monica Catholic Church, where the Adams were members and where they were married in the late 1990s, Msgr. Lloyd Torgerson said he could only take solace in the notion that “they died doing what they wanted to do.”

The article does a good job of explaining the competing versions of how the killings took place. It includes sad details, such as how some of the hostages were alive when the U.S. Navy boarded the yacht, but that all of the victims died soon thereafter. We also learn about signs of dissent among the pirates, from the two that abandoned the yacht and came aboard the guided missile destroyer Sterett to the two who were killed before the Navy boarded the ship.

This Los Angeles Times article also differs from earlier Associated Press reports that said pirates were driven solely by the desire for drugs and prostitutes:

Many areas of the Gulf have become safer. But pirates — driven largely by ransoms, but also by a sense of nationalism and protectionism — have responded by expanding their operations into once-safe pockets of the Indian Ocean.

The story is well written, adding details about the couple as the story progresses:

Scott Adam grew up in Chicago and worked for 30 years in episodic television and films, then left it behind in 1996 after undergoing a “mystical experience where God was calling him to ministry,” said Richard Peace, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and a close friend of Adam.

Scott Adam earned two master’s degrees at Fuller and was pursuing a doctorate. He was a mainstay at Fuller — and, since he was decades older than many of his classmates, a well-known character on campus.

In the late 1990s, he was introduced by a mutual friend to his future wife, then named Jean Savage. They were married soon after; both had children from a previous marriage.

We learn that the former Jean Savage and Scott Adam were married in the late 1990s. Both had children from previous marriages. For her part, Jean was said to be the only woman in her dental class at UCLA and had been a successful and popular dentist in Santa Monica. At least one GetReligion reader is a former patient. Jean suffered from severe seasickness but persevered and even earned a captain’s license of her own.

Here’s how the story ends:

Torgerson, of St. Monica church, offered two Masses in the Adams’ names Tuesday.

“They wanted to spend time … making loving disciples,” Torgerson said. “They felt they could bring the Scriptures to all parts of this far-flung world.”

Torgerson paraphrased a passage from Revelation 2:10: “If we are faithful, we will win the crown.”

The Adams, he said, “won the crown. They’re at peace.”

It is difficult to understand why the Adams were in these risky waters. Stories like the Los Angeles Times’ help explain that.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    What I find interesting on the religion side is that the Adams were apparently “Bible evangelist” Catholics. Anyone reading the news stories about their Bible distribution ministry would assume they were Evangelical Protestants and not Catholics unless their Catholic faith was mentioned.

  • EV

    @Deacon Bresnahan: “The Adams were apparently ‘Bible evangelist’ Catholics.”

    Yup, we exist.

  • http://lucemichael.wordpress.com/ lucemichael

    Thank you for tackling this. By and large, the reporting on this story has been terrible, and I can’t chalk that up to sloppy reporting only. It is almost conspiratorial how the first and second day stories on this failed to mention the “why” of their trip, especially since 1. their hometown paper had already reported on their missionary activities while the group were still hostages, and 2. the Adams’ website stated their mission upfront (and this website was referred to in many newsarticles. Finally, of the many major media articles I found in those first days, not one mentioned their denomination.

    I know I sound paranoid, but sheesh. Even the Old Grey Lady’s staffers can surf the internet, can’t they?

  • http://socrelig.com/ Gabor Por

    “It is difficult to understand why the Adams were in these risky waters. ”

    For me it is equally difficult to understand why you used a picture of the Hungarian Crown Jewels to accompany your article. :-)


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