OKLAHOMA CITY — At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, I had just stepped off The Oklahoman’s eighth-floor newsroom elevator when we heard the boom and saw the smoke in the distance.
In all, 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City — the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
Twenty-five years ago, my Oklahoman colleagues and I found ourselves covering the biggest story of our lives, even as we joined our grieving community in shedding tears over an unfathomable tragedy.
I was blessed to tell many stories of victims and survivors.
No single profile stuck with me, though, like the one about a blue-eyed, light-brown-haired baby named Danielle, who was killed in the second-floor America’s Kids Day Care. A quarter-century later, I caught up with Deniece Bell-Pitner, Danielle’s mother, whom I first interviewed in the bombing’s immediate aftermath.
“I realized, ‘He’s the only way I’m going to get through this,’” she told me.
Another bombing-related angle: I wrote a retrospective piece for The Associated Press on an April 23, 1995 prayer service that began the healing process for Oklahoma and millions of TV viewers around the world.
I’ll add a link to that story once it’s published.
Power up: The week’s best reads
No hugs or handshakes: Pandemic complicates storm relief: You may — or may not — have heard that 100-plus tornadoes struck the South over two days this week, killing more than 30 people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has, for obvious reasons, eclipsed some ordinarily major news.
But I was pleased to see AP veteran Jay Reeves, based in Birmingham, Alabama, explore the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on disaster relief. Bottom line: Volunteers — many of them with faith-based groups — “are still trying to provide all the help they can, but from a distance.”
In Ohio, the Amish take on the coronavirus: Some stories are just a joy to read. This one by New York Times feature writer Elizabeth Williamson certainly qualifies. And the photos by Erin Schaff are equally impressive.
The basic storyline: “A famously traditional community has mobilized to help hospitals with medical supplies, even as it struggles with reconciling its communal way of life with the dictates of social distancing.”
For anyone curious about how a journalist goes about reporting a story such as this, the Times offers a behind-the-scenes account in which Williamson observes: “Reporting on the coronavirus has made me think more deeply than I have in years about the nature of risk. In this case, it’s physically microscopic yet as potentially dangerous as risks encountered in conflict zones.”
In her first story since returning, Green talks to Jimmy Dorrell, pastor of the Church Under the Bridge in Waco, Texas.
“This is what church looks like during a pandemic: distanced, clouded by the threat of disease, but stubbornly persistent,” Green writes about Dorrell’s congregation.
Want a little more background on the Central Texas church? Check out my 2018 Religion News Service feature on “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines offering a temporary home to the congregation during Interstate 35 roadwork.
More top reads: The Trump campaign wants to win the votes of evangelicals of color, Julie Zauzmer and Michelle Boorstein, Washington Post … When the coronavirus came to Ebenezer Baptist, Joel Anderson, Slate … In ‘The Last Emperox,’ John Scalzi delivers a satisfying space opera with a soul, Bob Smietana, RNS … Priest contemplates his life, ministry after COVID-19 ordeal, Peter Smith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette … In days of contagion, last rites with less risk, Harriet Ryan and Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times … A new religion debate: Sending stimulus money directly to churches, Kelsey Dallas, Deseret News … Pastor steers flock and family through uncertainty of coronavirus, Errin Haines, Philadelphia Inquirer … There's an app for that: Christian mindfulness, meditation apps find their moment, Emily McFarlan Miller, RNS … Prominent Southern Baptist opposed Trump in 2016 but will vote for him in 2020, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Washington Post … Sikhs turn to online Vaisakhi, Simrin Singh, RNS … How one tornado-damaged church is writing its own resurrection story amid the COVID-19 crisis, Holly Meyer, The Tennessean.
Inside the Godbeat: Behind the bylines
Back in February, I praised Slate writer Ruth Graham’s “The Bible that oozed oil” story.
“It avoids the trap of easy cheap shots and roll-your-eyes dismissal of a ‘modern miracle,’” Nieman writer Trevor Pyle says of the article. “Rather, it is a complex weave of the intersection between politics and faith, and a non-cynical portrait of a community and some of the people in it.”
Charging station: In case you missed it
Here is where you can catch up on recent news and opinions from Religion Unplugged.
- In India, Muslims are blamed for spreading coronavirus (by Shuriah Niazi)
- Buddha at the door: Coronavirus lockdown opportunity for spiritual practice (by Hunter Liguore)
- Buddhist influencer Tyler Knott Gregson offers spiritual tools to cope during COVID-19 (by Liza Vandenboom)
- Phyllis Schlafly cast as feminism’s anti-hero in new series “Mrs. America” (by Liza Vandenboom)
- Notre Dame a year later: Which news outlets had the best coverage? (by Clemente Lisi)
- India changes residency rules in Kashmir under cover of COVID-19 lockdown (by Zaffar Iqbal)
- Remembering Noël Choux, the French priest who resisted Soviet communism (by Martina Mašková)
- Tanzanian churches are a hub for prevention (and potential hotspot) for coronavirus (by Georgia Gee)
- This Easter, Christians worldwide are fighting not just COVID-19 but persecution too (by Lela Gilbert and Arielle Del Turco)
The Final Plug
Nearly two decades ago, I wrote a column in which I suggested, facetiously, that wearegullible.com could be the official Christian website.
I’m not sure much has changed.
At Christianity Today this week, Ed Stetzer pointed to Christians spreading coronavirus conspiracy theories and noted, “Gullibility is not a spiritual gift.”
It’s hard to argue with that.
(Bobby Ross Jr. is a columnist for Religion Unplugged and editor in chief of The Christian Chronicle. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)