By Bobby Ross Jr. | Religion Unplugged
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Joe Biden’s inauguration as America’s 46th president produced a ton of religion news. We’ll get to all that in a moment.
First, though, the most jaw-dropping Godbeat story of the week comes not from the Beltway but from the Bible Belt, courtesy of Religion News Service national writer (and gainfully employed) Bob Smietana.
Last Friday, RNS published Smietana’s 4,150-word investigative piece on the “cultlike environment” inside Christian financial guru Dave Ramsey’s $42 million headquarters in Franklin, Tenn., south of Nashville. That piece followed a December story by Smietana on Ramsey’s for-profit enterprise defying COVID-19 precautions such as wearing masks.
Ramsey Solutions didn’t take kindly to Smietana’s latest questions, responding with a sarcastic email that said, “Who would have guessed that an unemployed guy, oh I am sorry, a ‘freelance reporter’ would be the one to show us how horrible we are so we can change and to let the world know of our evil intent, secrets, and complete disregard for decency…..but YOU did it, you with all your top notch investigative skills have been able to weave together a series of half-truths to expose our evil ways. You are truly amazing.”
It’s unclear why Ramsey Solutions thinks one of the nation’s top religion correspondents is unemployed. But the statement proceeded to dox Smietana, sharing his email address, phone number and hometown with pastors, business leaders and the entire Ramsey team.
In a Religion Unplugged onlinepanel discussion, Smietana talked about his coverage of Ramsey and the company’s response to him.
Also offering their insight were Cheryl Mann Bacon, retired journalism chair at Abilene Christian University; Meagan Clark, managing editor of Religion Unplugged; Holly Meyer, religion writer for The Tennessean; and Warren Cole Smith, president of Ministry Watch.
“If I were teaching PR Principles this semester, we would start with that as an example of how to never, ever, ever do public relations,” Bacon said of the email. “It just violated all of the basic principles of ethical public relations.”
Smith agreed with Bacon’s assessment but suggested, “I think we ought to also acknowledge that it might actually be effective for Ramsey’s audience or the people who love him. … We’ve seen this in the era of Trump that a certain number of people will respond favorably to what Ramsey did.”
Don’t have time to watch the full panel? Skip to the 48-minute mark, where Smietana describes a few of the pranks that resulted from Ramsey Solutions doxxing him.
Such as: He got signed up for a Latter-day Saints singles group. For the record, he is married and not a Mormon.
This column appears in the online magazine Religion Unplugged.