A Look Back
Public Leadership and Civic Renewal
Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Autumn 1995
Peter Jennings, the ABC newsman who died on August 7, 2005, served on the advisory council of Harvard Divinity School’s Center for the Study of Values in Public Life during the 1990s. The following words—an excerpt from an address Jennings presented at HDS in 1995, as part of a conference on public leadership and civic renewal—are included here in memoriam and as a brief reminder of how significantly, and why, the coverage of religion topics in mainstream journalism has increased in the last decade:
“Eleven years ago, when I came back to my current job and began to wander around the country again, I was struck by how many Americans, in the midst of such plenty, were hungry for something more than our vaunted consumer society could provide them. And very slowly I began to realize the most obvious fact: that people’s faith and religious beliefs were connected in so many ways to everything that was going on around me.
”Incidentally, though I do think it proper for journalists to keep their distance, I discovered there was a new spark to my own faith. I had been raised in a fairly predictable Anglican communion, where the practice of religion was often, I am sorry to say, as much social behavior as it was spiritual. But today I find there is both comfort and challenge in practicing my faith and, though I am a dismal failure on many fronts, in trying to live by it.
“We must stop treating religion as if it were like building model airplanes, just another hobby, not really a fit activity for intelligent adults. The sooner we do, the sooner we will have a greater grasp of our nation. And what journalist could ask for a bigger story?”