Richard Ostling — finally! — sets up an online camp

Richard Ostling — finally! — sets up an online camp November 29, 2012

Anyone who has followed GetReligion for very long knows what the letters WWROD stand for. I mean, the first reference of this kind showed up only a few weeks into the blog’s existence, way back in 2004.

WWROD? We’re asking, What Would Richard Ostling Do?

Ostling, of course, is the former religion-beat pro at Time, back in the days when that weekly magazine was a force in hard news, and then with the Associated Press. For those of us who arrived on the Godbeat in last quarter of the 20th Century, it would be hard to name someone we respected more or whose work carried more professional authority (with Russ Chandler of the great Los Angeles Times religion team joining him in the top ranks).

Thus, I am happy to pass along the following email from Ostling, which followed several chats on this topic during the recent Religion Newswriters Association meetings here in Beltway territory:

Forsaking lazy retirement mode I am about to launch a new “Religion Q and A” blog for, probably the most important interfaith site on the Internet.

Most features on Patheos are opinionated, faith-specific (Buddhist, Catholic, Pagan) … whereas mine will be non-partisan and journalistic in approach and cover wide-ranging topics.

We’ll be asking folks in cyberspace to send in questions regarding any and all faiths, any Scriptures, current church-state and religion-politics issues, moral quandaries and other such puzzlements and curiosities. If I’m able, I’ll post an answer with others then welcome others to add comments.

To get this thing launched I need savvy folks to start providing some interesting questions for me to try to answer. If willing, would you, and contacts in your circle of friends who’d be interested in this, send in questions that I’ll consider for the first postings on the site? Simply go to

On the right-hand side type in your question and click “Send” which transmits it to me to consider for a posted answer.

The name, in other words, is “Religion Q and A: The Ridgewood Religion Guy Answers Your Questions.” I had lobbied hard for “The Religion Answer Man.” Whatever. This is great news no matter what it’s called. I’ve been bugging this man for years about getting involved in a blog, whether writing for GetReligion every now and then or pursuing some other online option.

Once this is up and running, Ostling will be in the Patheos “News and Politics” channel, which is also the home of GetReligion. Obviously, Ostling expects to get his share of questions about the role of religion in the news and public life and, thus, GetReligion plans to feature at least one of his posts each week. It’s the kind of cooperation we hope to see more of around these cyber-parts (hint, hint former GetReligionista Jeremy Lott and Deacon Greg Kandra, the former CBS News scribe).

Those seeking a quick introduction to Ostling, via audio, can check out this interview conducted at the Calvin Institute of Worship.

For a sample of Ostling’s print work — one that is highly relevant to his new blogging format — click here for a 2005 GetReligion post focusing on a short Associated Press analysis piece in which he tried to explain the unexplainable, as in the very divergent schools of sexual ethics found in the global Anglican Communion. That full AP report can be found stashed away right here.

Here’s a large chunk of that AP text, focusing on the four camps that Ostling calls “dismissal, perplexity, renovation and traditionalism.”

Dismissal is the left-fringe attitude personified by Bishop John Shelby Spong, former head of the Newark, N.J., diocese. In “The Sins of Scripture” (HarperSanFrancisco), he says calling the Bible “the Word of God” (a belief he himself affirmed at ordination) is “perhaps the strangest claim ever made” for a document. Spong finds the Old Testament’s homosexual prohibitions ignorant and “morally incompetent” expressions of “popular prejudices.” With the New Testament, he disdains Paul’s condemnations as “ill-informed” ravings from a zealot who, he hypothesizes, was a “deeply repressed, self-loathing” homosexual.

“The contending positions are mutually exclusive,” he concludes, and “there can be no compromise.” He dismisses conservative views as “frail, fragile and pitiful.”

The other three approaches were displayed at a … hearing before the international Anglican Consultative Council. …

Perplexity was the outlook of Anglican Church of Canada representatives. Their denomination affirmed the “integrity and sanctity” of homosexual relationships and tolerated a diocese’s blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. The Canadians said they are “seeking discernment” but face “deep divisions” and lack consensus.

Renovation was the policy of the U.S. Episcopal Church in its report “To Set Our Hope on Christ,” written by seven theologians. It was the denomination’s first official rationale for recognition of the unhindered same-sex blessings in its ranks and for toleration of openly gay clergy, including a bishop.

Traditionalists answered that argument with “A True Hearing,” a paper by writers from nine nations that the Anglican Mainstream group gave to delegates to explain the stance endorsed in 1998 by 82 percent of the world’s Anglican bishops.

And so forth and so on. In other words, Ostling is going to help point readers and, I would imagine, some journalists toward information and resources on complex religion-news questions. I would be hard-pressed to name a better scribe to take on that task.

Stay tuned.

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  • tmatt

    The silence here leads me to believe that few GetReligion readers are actually interested in the work of reporting about religion in the mainstream press.

    Am I being too harsh?

    • Darren Blair


      Hate to say it, but…

      I read the 2007 revision of “Mormon America”, which he wrote with his wife Joan.

      As an actual Mormon, I was less than impressed with the work due to a number of inaccuracies I found in the work.

      For example, the 2007 edition refers to department store chain ZCMI as “a major mercantile institution in today’s Intermountain West”, when in reality the church sold ZCMI to Macy’s around the time the first edition was written; by the time the second edition had come out, the name “ZCMI” was gone, replaced by either “Macy’s”, “Dillard’s”, or “Meier & Frank”. This should have been simple fact-checking between editions, and so for it not to happen was IMHO rather depressing.

      In that sense, I was just gonna pass this one by until I saw your comment.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.


      I often wonder the same thing when posts focused on religion journalism and not on the hot-button political or doctrinal issues draw no response.

      Then again, I read your post earlier today, enjoyed it and was pleased to learn that Ostling (with whom I collaborated a few times during my AP tenure) is going to blog. However, I didn’t really have any comment to make. I’d like to think that’s the case with many of GR’s readers, as opposed to them not caring about this site’s core mission.

  • Darrell Turner

    Tmatt, because you’re looking for comments, I’ll share some good words about Richard Ostling. He has been a shining example of good religion writing throughout his career at Time magazine. Today’s writers of all media can learn from his career.

  • Julia

    Reason for no comment: It’s been so long since I’ve paid any attention to Time writing on religion that I didn’t remember the magazine ever had any sensible writing on religion.

  • Jerry

    I did not comment here before now. I went over to his new site and submitted a request. But for me, including me, the name Ostling does not have the meaning it does for you and other professionals. So when I read the post I thought: hmm. Interesting. Terry holds him in very high regard. I’ll have to check out his blog and see if I agree.

    But to your more general point, people in general including readers of this blog, don’t in general care as deeply as you do about how the media covers religion. You have a “fire in the belly” and that’s a good thing but for many of us, a somewhat detached cynicism is more likely. So we’re much less likely to rouse ourselves to comment unless our oxen are getting gored or we object to something you’ve written or perhaps because you’ve supported one of our hot button items.

    There is one trap however, lack of comments does not automatically mean lack of interest. If you had a voting mechanism where we could with one click register how interesting/helpful a story was, there might be some useful findings.

  • Kate

    Hey, I read by feedreader and only just got to this post. We’re not all on a 24 hour news-cycle. 😉

    In any case, I think that a good, fact-based religious q&a is a great idea, and while I don’t really have much to say about it here, I am following your link and adding the rss feed for Ostlers new blog to my feedreader.

    You must be able to see traffic as well as comments – are the number of reading-length page views (so, over 30 seconds) comparable between posts? Do you get more quick click-aways on some kinds of posts? Comments are a great form of feedback, but controversy always gets more comments than something more informative – that’s not because no one reads or appreciates the informative stuff, but it doesn’t provoke (or even seem to require) response in the same way as debatable topics do.

  • Marie

    I think that I may be like many other GR readers. I am not a journalist but I am interested in how religion is covered in the media. I don’t know much about Ostler so hearing about his new blog did not immediately generate the sort of excitement that someone in journalism might have. The idea of a religion Q&A from a reliable source definitely interests me. If not for tmatt’s comment I probable wouldn’t have submitted a comment myself. “I am interested in reading this blog” doesn’t really seem comment worthy.
    Perhaps you would have seen more comments if you had asked readers to comment on topics they hope will be covered in the blog.

  • Russ Chandler

    Dick O. has been a good and dear friend and trusted colleague for a good many years and I’m happy to see him stepping up to the plate on this.
    I can’t think of any person on the planet better suited to be the undertaker of this! (cq)
    Probably those most interested will be the scribes who actually reported hard news religion back in the day — last quarter of the last century — of print media.

    Post-print communication types who nose around religion and ancillary topics may be more inclined to shrug and say “meh”!

    Hope I’m wrong but “journalism” has undergone a Titanic tectonic shift. TMatt, Dick and I are among those who were rearranging ecclesiastical deck chairs before the great ship started down.:)

  • Karly

    Frankly, I’ve been more interested in tmatt, geoconger, and mollie than in Ostling. I read you nearly every day. But I’m sure I’ll be checking in with Ostling now too. Anyone who can give truthful answers to the religious conundrums of our day is high on my list.