Hurrah: Learning more about Antoinette Tuff’s religion

The other day I was reading an obituary of Tom Christian, descendent of the Bounty mutineer. It was in the New York Times and written by my very favorite obituary writer, Margalit Fox.

So, right up top the obit included this line:

Mr. Christian, who for his services to Pitcairn was named a Member of the British Empire in 1983, was long considered an elder statesman on the island. He served for years on the Island Council, the local governing body, and was a lay elder in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to which most islanders belong.

Thank you! It’s a common refrain here, but oh how frustrating it is to not learn the basics of someone’s religious affiliation. It seems like such a modest expectation, but one that is frequently unmet.

Which gets us to this follow-up about my new favorite person: Antoinette Tuff.

You may remember that she’s the bookkeeper who talked a deranged man out of shooting up any students or faculty at an Atlanta area school. Listening to her 9-1-1 call is wonderfully inspirational. She’s so realistic about the threat but she just manages her fear and speaks to the gunman with love. We talked about some early coverage here.

A long-time GetReligion reader sent in this CNN story that explored some of her religious views, headlined “CNN Exclusive: A hug, then ‘We made it!’ as school bookkeeper, dispatcher reunite.” The story is about Tuff and 9-1-1 dispatcher Kendra McCray:

In their voices, both women sounded calm throughout the call — even as gunshots were ringing out around Tuff, and later when the suspect reached into a bag to reload his AK-47-type assault rifle.

But inside, they now admit, they were terrified.

McCray recalled Thursday how her hands were shaking, though she knew that she couldn’t reveal her fears in her voice. And Tuff said she was trying to incorporate the lessons she’d learned in church to stay strong for herself, the 800-plus elementary school students in the classrooms behind her — and for the gunman whom she came to feel for.

“I was actually praying on the inside,” she recalled. “I was terrified, but I just started praying.”

At the end of the piece, which is based on interviews with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Tuff speaks a bit more about her faith:

Tuff would like to visit him, calling him a “hurting soul” who she’d like to help.

“We all go through something,” she said, with her 911 call reflecting on her challenges raising a disabled child and suicidal thoughts after the end of her marriage after more than two decades. “And I believe that God gives us a purpose in life.”

And Tuff believes she was meant to be at McNair on Tuesday, even though she’d originally been scheduled to be off. She thinks she was meant to be up front to first encounter the gunman — in that location at that time because she’d been delayed from going back to her desk. She said it was all part of God’s plan — for her, for the suspect and for McNair’s students.

But that doesn’t mean Tuff knew she had it in her, to face down a gunman and potential death so calmly, and to live to tell about it.

“No, no. If somebody would have told me that I was going to be doing that that day, I wouldn’t have believed it,” she told CNN. “God has a way of showing you what’s really in you.”

This is all great stuff. And from the moment I heard Tuff’s calm demeanor and love for this gunman, I have been curious about her specific religious views. So have many other readers, to judge by our mail. As one reader who submitted this story put it simply, “I’m curious about Ms. Tuff’s specific affiliation.”

Exactly. That’s a specific and important fact in her story, a fact that easily be reported by journalists. Unless this is a state secret, I see no reason to hide this information from the reading and viewing public. Just sayin’.

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  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Ask and you shall receive:
    McNair school hero honored by church
    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/school-hero-honored-by-church/nZcCn/
    She’s part of The Way, The Truth and The Life Christian Center in Decatur. But we really don’t learn anything about their beliefs in this account.

  • Matt
  • Daniel Merriman

    Neither story tells me where the church stands on gay marriage.

  • Scout Kent

    First of all, if you’d like to be taken seriously as a writer, quit inserting meaningless slang such as “Just sayin’.” It makes you sound like you’re posting on Facebook rather than trying to make a meaningful point.

    Second, tone down the paranoia – just because a specific fact is not reported doesn’t mean it is being hidden or kept secret. The person being interviewed may prefer that this (or other personal facts) not be specified, and these preferences are generally honored when the subject is an “ordinary” person. The reporter may not have time to get certain information for the initial report – her religious affiliation was available in less than 5 days, which is reasonable for what is essentially a human interest story. Finally, large numbers of Americans attend non-denominational churches, and merely knowing the name of it is not going to give you much additional information.

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      It seems to me that Mollie is taken seriously as writer — which is why she’s a professional and a contributor to this blog (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/m-z-hemingway/).

      Second, there is no paranoia. All she’s doing is asking the same thing that she and many others on this site have asked — take religion seriously, so seriously that you actually find out what the subject’s religious affiliation is and report that.

      May I suggest you read what else is on the blog to figure out its style before you start making unwarranted criticisms?


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