Modern-day Job preaching again


Modern-day Job preaching again: After the murders of his wife and son, Mississippi minister Les Ferguson Jr. wrestled with God.

RIDGELAND, Miss. — Les Ferguson Jr. couldn’t help but scream at God.

Why — the longtime minister demanded to know — didn’t the Almighty protect his wife and son from the predator who murdered them?

In his darkest days, Ferguson couldn’t imagine ever trusting in the Lord again, much less proclaiming the Gospel before a crowd of saints and sinners in a tree-shaded church building.

Yet on a recent Sunday, that’s exactly where he stood — preaching on faith and doubt at the Lake Harbour Drive Church of Christ, a racially diverse congregation north of the state capital of Jackson.

“True confession time: There were mighty dark days,” Ferguson told the 211 souls who filled the pews. “There were nights of questioning and wondering. There were days and nights, hour upon hour of screaming at God until I completely lost my voice and couldn’t say another word.”

But with the Lake Harbour Drive church, the modern-day Job has found his voice again and revived his calling.

This story appears in the mid-December 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

Dear God, please stop Ebola, Liberian immigrants pray


Dear God, please stop Ebola, Liberian immigrants pray: Rhode Island minister hopeful as rate of infections slows in his disease-ravaged homeland.

A space vehicle named Philae lands on a comet 310 million miles from Earth? That news strikes close to home.

An Ebola outbreak kills thousands in West Africa? Many of us find that news harder to fathom — except when an isolated case of the deadly virus hits the U.S.

But for the 250 members of the Providence Church of Christ in Rhode Island, the pictures of disease and suffering on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean depict the faces of family and friends.

“We’ve been praying about it,” said William Horace, minister for the thriving congregation of Liberian immigrants. “We’ve been in contact with the people — daily contact.”

I enjoyed a wonderful visit with the Providence church in 2012 and recall how warmly the men clad in button-down shirts and the women sporting colorful African headscarves greeted each other — and me.

This column appears in the mid-December 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Peter Smith discusses his in-depth project on immigrant religion in Pittsburgh

immigrant religion in pittsburgh

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Peter Smith discusses his in-depth project on immigrant religion in Pittsburgh

GETRELIGION.ORG — Peter Smith has spent the last several months reporting on immigrant religious communities in Pittsburgh, carving out time for the special project between daily assignments.

After 13 years on the Godbeat with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Smith joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as its new religion writer last year. He previously freelanced for Religion News Service.

His work with the Post-Gazette earned him the Religion Newswriters Association’s 2014 Religion Reporter of the Year Award. That prize recognizes excellence in religion writing for metropolitan newspapers.

In all, Smith boasts 30 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He earned a bachelor of arts in English at Oral Roberts University and a master of arts in religion from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Smith discussed his first year in Pittsburgh — including the immigrant religion project — in an interview with GetReligion.

This analysis of media coverage appears online at

November 2014: GetReligion


Did the devil make an Oklahoma man smash into Ten Commandments monument? Or did mental illness? Published Nov. 3.

Big Bang and Bobby Jindal: Is Louisiana governor’s silence on pope’s evolution remarks newsworthy? Published Nov. 4.

No pepperoni, plenty of ghosts: Generic Christians open a pizza cafe as a vague ‘experiment of faith.’ Published Nov. 6.

Five for Friday: Zombies and other Godbeat headlines that you may have missed. Published Nov. 7.

Giant, smelly snails in Florida: Could there really be a religion angle to this story? Published Nov. 11.

Big news report card: Mormon church acknowledges founder Joseph Smith’s many wives. Published Nov. 12.

Amen to former GetReligionista’s question: Why’d a Muslim NBA player skip the national anthem? Published Nov. 13.

Pod people: More on Mormon church founder Joseph Smith’s 40 wives and the media’s delayed bandwagon. Published Nov. 14.

Another American beheaded: Peter Kassig became a Muslim while in captivity, but was his conversion genuine? Published Nov. 17.

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Peter Smith discusses his in-depth project on immigrant religion in Pittsburgh. Published Nov. 19.

Don’t oppress a stranger: President Obama quotes Scripture in his immigration speech, but which one? Published Nov. 21.

Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study. Published Nov. 23.

Remember the Titans, neglect the saints


Remember the Titans, neglect the saints: For some, gridiron gods compete with God for time and attention on Sunday. 

In my Associated Press days, I wrote about a church that developed a “Holy Huddle” program to combat people leaving services early to watch the Dallas Cowboys.

More recently, a preacher I know in a different NFL city complained about members slipping out in the middle of a sermon to pay homage to the football gods.

On any given weekend, anywhere between 63 million and 118 million Americans go to church, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. At the same time, that many or more tune into professional football, which for 30 years has reigned supreme among American sports, as noted by Sports Illustrated.

I asked ministers about their experiences with Christians who find it easier to remember the Titans than to gather with the saints (no, not those Saints).

“Someone must have emailed you to let you know that me and three buddies ‘slipped out’ during the invitation song this past Sunday night to head to the Packers game in the Superdome!” said Eric Dishongh, minister for the Hickory Knoll Church of Christ in Harahan, La., and a New Orleans Saints season ticket holder.

This column appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.

5Q+1: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

5Q+1 interview: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

GETRELIGION.ORG — JoAnne Viviano covers faith and values for the Columbus Dispatch, a central Ohio newspaper with a daily circulation of 120,000 and an average Sunday circulation of about 230,000.

Her Godbeat writing earned her the 2014 Cornell Religion Reporter of the Year Award from theReligion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at mid-sized newspapers.

“I grew up in suburban Detroit, where my mom fostered in me an early love for books by taking me to the library regularly and teaching me to read as a kindergartener,” Viviano said.

She received a bachelor of arts degree in English and communication from the University of Michigan (“not very popular here in Columbus!”) before starting working as a reporter. She recalls “an amazing mentor there named Jon Hall, who helped me find the confidence I needed to turn my writing abilities into a career as a reporter.”

Her first writing job came with her Michigan hometown weekly, The Romeo Observer, followed by stints with The Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens, Mich., the New Haven Register in Connecticut and The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio. Along the way, she covered beats ranging from general assignments to municipal governments to state courts to education to crime.

Shortly before a strike hit The Vindicator, she left and earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. That led her to The Associated Press, where she worked for several years, starting in the Detroit bureau before moving to Columbus, eventually serving as a breaking-news staffer.

“I came to The Columbus Dispatch in 2013 because I missed beat reporting and being part of a metro newsroom,” Viviano said. “It was a scary choice, with the way the industry has been, but I’m glad I made it. The Dispatch has remained strong and is a supportive, positive place to work.”

This analysis of media coverage appears online at

Tragic Sunday: Kentucky church elder, wife, daughter shot to death

churchsign-011613 2.57.55 PM

Tragic Sunday: Kentucky church elder, wife, daughter shot to death: Authorities allege the couple’s son enlisted a fourth victim as a hitman on his family, then killed him. 

On a recent Sunday morning, elder Lindsey Champion and his wife, Joy, worshiped, as always, with the Cadiz Church of Christ in western Kentucky.

Preacher Randall Evans visited with them and shook their hands after the 10 a.m. assembly Oct. 26.

“It was actually a great day,” Evans told The Christian Chronicle. “The sun was shining. The sky was blue. We had a great Bible class.”

But before noon, the couple and their adult daughter, Emily Champion, were found shot to death at the family’s rural home, Kentucky State Police Trooper Jay Thomas said.

Authorities believe the elder’s son, Ryan Champion, 36, enlisted a fourth victim, Vito Riservato, 22, as a hitman, then killed him.

This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.