Black Poet Ammetta Capdiville relies on faith and a market for her poems. She found both at the first annual Black Religion Writers Conference held recently at Howard University.
"It opened up a whole new world in the area of black publicaton opportunities," Capdiville, of Southwest Washington, said.
Ten prominent religion editors addressed the conference on topics ranging from "Coverage of Black Religion by the Daily Press" to "Advocacy and the religious Press."
Results of a six-year research project on black churches in Washington were presented, ofering new information about religion in the black community. The project was directed by Lovenger H. Bowden, a Howard University "school of Communications professor.
Bowden said the study found that documented information about blacks is often incorrect. For example, she said, she found 630 black churches in Washington, while a previous study had located only 200.
In another instance, she said, her findings contradicted a belief in the black community that educated blacks tend to leave the church.One large church in Washington counted more than 400 teachers and 21 lawyers among its members, she noted.
Conferees, who came from 11 states and the District of Columbia and represented 21 denominations, noted a new trend in the types of materials published for black religious groups; an increase in periodicals, newsletters and magazines published by churches with lower income memberships and by individual, lay publishers.
James Tinney, an assistant professor in the Howard University Department of Journalism as well as a leading Pentecostal writer and an editorial writer for the Washington Afro-American, conceived the idea for the conference and coordinated its activities.
"You can say the Catholics and Protestants got together here," said William A. Reed, religion editor for the Nashville Tennessean, who also served as the first black president of the Religious News Writers Association.
The World Community of Islam of the West (Black Muslims) was represented by guest speaker Ghayth Nur Kashif, editor of the Bilalian News, one of the largest black publications in the U.S. Participants also heard Louis B. Reynolds, an alumnus of the Howard School of Religion, now editor of the Message, the Seventh-Day Adventist magazine.
Conference participants, primarily conservative and middle-class, split over two issues.
The first concerned artists' images of Christ. Some questioned whether pictures of Christ should have Afro-American, Asiatic or Mid-eastern facial features. Others felt representations should be eliminated.
Some felt strongly that Christ should not be identified with any particular group.
George M. Daniels, director of Interpretive Services for the Board of Global Ministries, a service sponsored by the United Methodist Church, noted, "christ is a spirit and therefore colorless; I don't even like to think in those terms."
But Reed, religion editor of the Nashville Tennessean, said he believed there are cases when it is natural to give Christ an ethnic image. For example, he said, ethnic images can help children to identify with biblical figures.
Conferees also disagreed when Jim Wallis, editor and publisher of Sojourners Magazine of Washington, D.C., said religion writers should advocate that Christ favored the poor and the powerless. Some questioned that goal, asking what that would mean to churches' work with other groups.
The daily press came under criticism from several speakers.
Daniels said white religion editors never learned the lessons of the '60s -- that there are differences between black and white religion. They still write about religion in general and as if it is universal, he said.
The press in general was criticized for what speakers said was a tendency to report only crises in churches or to focus only on church leaders. Instead, Tinney said, the press should report on major trends in religion, day-to-day events in churches and social activism as well as the denominational differences.
Robbie McCoy, religion editor of the Michigan Chronicle in Detroit for 22 years, reminded the audience that religious news has come a long way in the last few years.
"Now church news is news," she said. "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. brought it to the front page."