Ask a New York- or D.C.-based journalist what they know about evangelical Christians and you may well get an answer like, “They’re the ones who voted for Donald Trump.” The typical reporter tends to view society through a political lens and has little exposure to religion. Carl Cannon, Editor of the news website RealClearPolitics, acknowledges the problem. “I was practically born and raised in the news business, and know firsthand that newsrooms are exceedingly secular places,” he says. “But the people we cover—and our audiences—are steeped in religious faith of all kinds. So to accurately cover the political and civic life of this country, journalists need to know what’s going on in the spiritual life of their fellow Americans.”

Back in 1999 a fellow journalist, Michael Cromartie, who happened to be an evangelical Christian, decided to address the knowledge gap. Polls have consistently shown that the majority of Christians believe the media is “unfriendly” toward religion. Cromartie sensed that secular journalists were more uninformed about religion than biased against it. Fact-checking colleagues often called him with questions about religion that revealed their unfamiliarity. For example, one asked him for the author and publisher of the book of Ephesians.

Cromartie rounded up sponsors for what would become known as the Faith Angle Forum. He organized a two-day retreat at a Florida resort for elite journalists to interact with scholars and prominent religious figures. His goal was not to convert anyone, rather to introduce journalists to people well known in the religious world but less so in the world of media. Over the years, these speakers included Tim Keller, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Miroslav Volf , Francis Collins, Andy Crouch, Richard Mouw, Os Guinness, Mark Noll, and Rick Warren.

When Rick Warren joined the gathering in 2005, David Brooks of the New York Times commented, “Although The Purpose Driven Life had already sold 25 million copies, I’m not sure many in the room had heard of him.” Some 200 journalists have taken part in the annual Forums, and the relaxed setting has produced memorable encounters. Many of the liveliest discussions—such as debates between the renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens and the columnist David Brooks—have occurred on the patio over appetizers or dessert.Conversation at Faith Angle Forum

Educating just one reporter about faith can in turn raise awareness in the broader public. In 2009 Dr. Francis Collins, an outspoken Christian who headed the Human Genome Project and the National Institutes of Health, spoke about science and ended his presentation by pulling out his guitar and singing a worship song. Intrigued, a journalist at the Forum followed up by writing a profile on Collins in The New Yorker, emphasizing his harmonious commitment to both science and faith. Many other articles and feature stories have referenced speakers and conversations from a Faith Angle Forum.Francis Collins

Michael Cromartie died of cancer in 2017, but the Forums have continued, covering such topics as immigration, just-war theory, racism, the megachurch, and the evolution of the Christian Right. As a result, at least some media coverage on religion has become more nuanced and well-informed. (See this short video for an introduction to the Forum:

Last month I co-led a session at the Forum with my friend Pete Wehner, who writes for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic. We were joined by Pete’s colleagues from those publications, as well as journalists from Time, Huffpost, Al Jazeera, the Los Angeles Times, NPR, The Daily Beast, Axios, Comment, The Bulwark, and Christianity Today. Each of the three main sessions lasted almost three hours.

Panel at Faith Angle ForumJemar Tisby, author of How to Fight Racism, and Philip Gorski of Yale University led a discussion on “The Rise of Christian Nationalism.” We had all seen photos from the January 6, 2022 attack on the U.S. Capitol building, with the cross and American flag prominently displayed together, along with slogans like “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President.” In the past few decades the number of Americans who self-identify as Christians has declined from 90 percent to 64 percent, which stirs up fear and alarm in some quarters. Tisby calculates that a third of the U.S. population supports some form of Christian nationalism or even white supremacy.

Two Muslim scholars, Mustafa Akyol and Dalia Mogahed, led a discussion on “Islam and American Pluralism.” Muslims represent only 1 percent of the U.S. population, and thus have no expectation of gaining much political power. I learned that most American Muslims view evangelical Christians positively, respecting their stance against a secular, materialistic culture. The reverse, however, is not true: evangelicals tend to view Muslims negatively.

Panel at Faith Angle Forum

Pete Wehner and I led the third session, on “Spiritual Formation in Turbulent Times.” All attendees received a copy of my memoir, Where the Light Fell, and I began by sketching out my life story. As I told the journalists, “I envision God looking at me and saying, ‘Well, Philip, you’ve seen the worst of the church, so let me show you some of the best.’”

I began my journalistic career in the Watergate era of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, and at first aspired to be an investigative reporter shining a light on the charlatans in religion. Very quickly I learned that involved spending time with litigious jerks who bristled at any criticism. Instead, I began to seek out people I wanted to emulate and learn from. I profiled Dr. Paul Brand, who became my co-author on three books, and interviewed authors like Frederick Buechner and Henri Nouwen. In my travels I featured those on the front lines of ministry, such as Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission and Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative. I found that healthy Christians, like healthy churches, often get overlooked by mainstream media.

The number of people with no religious affiliation, “the nones,” has been growing exponentially. Many millennials and GenXers who grew up in the church have gone on to de-construct or jettison their faith entirely. My own story adds a further stage. To borrow an analogy from Jesus, after surviving a toxic church I discovered a pearl of great price hidden in a field. In four decades of writing, I’ve been scrubbing off the accumulated dirt and grime on that pearl, in search of the “good news” at its core.

Our session was the least political and most personal of the three, as shown by the questions that emerged:Journalist asking questions at Faith Angle Forum

  What do you say when you’re asked to speak in places of deep tragedy, like Columbine High School, and Newtown, Connecticut, or even Sarajevo?

  We know about moral formation and character education. How is “spiritual formation” different?

  What is your message for ex-vangelicals, those raised in the church but who have since left it?

  What kept you from responding to a toxic church by walking away completely, as your brother did?

  How has your recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease affected your life?


This video link ( presents the entire session that Pete Wehner and I led. I tell my story in the first half hour. Those interested in our responses to the journalists’ questions can keep listening to the interactions that followed. I left Miami grateful to the Faith Angle Forum for helping to sharpen how journalists understand and cover matters of faith.




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17 responses to “Sharpening the Faith Angle”

  1. Mark Seramur says:

    No pain- no gain
    As it says in the movie “Princess Bride”
    Life is pain: anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something!?
    Personally/ I feel we use Christianity to rid ourselves of painful memories and present challenges,,, instead of seeing that if Jesus suffered;;; so must we……..

  2. Chip Watkins says:

    I met Mike Cromartie in 1977, when he was working with Chuck Colson to launch Prison Fellowship. Mike’s work was God’s gift to both the church and our nation, and Faith Angle was a key part of that. He is now enjoying his eternal reward!

  3. Vicki says:

    I read the whole book written by Stormy Daniels. I can say with absolute certainty that he wasn’t in that hotel room, as Franklin Graham said, “to tell that young woman about Jesus.”
    Most people don’t get au naturel in order to “spread the good news about Jesus coming to save the world.”
    Unless he was reconstructing the Garden of Eden scene from when the man first met the woman, I don’t think he thought of God once.

    I also read his niece’s book. Mary Trump, who has a Ph.D in Psychology from Columbia University.
    I got the impression that nobody in their family talks much about God.
    To this day, I can’t understand why anyone believes he’s Godly, but them people believed Heinrich Himmler was Catholic.
    It just must have been some “coincidence” when he had 5 million of them killed at Auschwitz.

  4. Norman G. Raiford says:

    Thanks, Philip, for all you have done through your powerful writings to enrich us followers of Jesus. Your honest self-revelations have inspired millions the world around. May your remaining years continue to enlighten, enrich, and inspire.

    Blessings to you and Janet.

  5. Tony Sullivan says:

    Hi, I believe that millennials did need to disconnect because of no Christ in a lot of Christendom. But, this is the same thing that happened in the 60’s with the hippie Jesus Revolution, it needs to happen again.

  6. Berwyn says:

    I’m glad to learn about the Faith Angle Forum. The notion of “church” is becoming increasingly confused to both insiders and outsiders, and I attribute this in part to the rise of Christian nationalism and toxic politics. Many folks want nothing to do with churches they see as critical, judgmental, angry, divisive, and even violent. The infusion of politics into religion is destructive, especially since so many people cannot separate politics from faith. In fact, many put politics before faith and don’t realize it.

    I read and re-read your books to keep my perspective grounded in grace. Why have so many churches and self-identified Christians lost sight of this fundamental gift? Why do we reject it and instead cling to legalistic self righteousness and anti-this and ant-that, disparaging so many people from faith? Shouldn’t faith, hope, and love always take precedent?

  7. Chuck Tompkins says:

    The Faith Angle is a profound example of the “porch” metaphor that Timothy Keller features in a recent article in the Gospel Coalition which also notes profound insights from the seminal thinker of a past century, Abraham Kuyper. The porch, borrowed from homes of yesteryear that had a transitional space from the street to the home. Never has there been a greater need than now, to create a relational space where listening conversations are promoted as the gap continues to widen spiritually from the “street” to “home”. May the Faith Angle prompt fellow followers to create such in our communities! kudos to you, Philip, for modeling such!

  8. Eva Morton says:

    Your writing has been a huge encouragement to me over the years. You have been a blessing to the Church and the world. I pray for you and Janet as you navigate the rough waters ahead.
    God bless you,
    Eva Morton

  9. Ronald Sprentz says:

    I watched the entire Youtube video and it was quite fascinating and easy to watch. I am so thankful Philip that your disappointment with God, the church, and your own family, didn’t keep you in a pertetual state of DISAPPOINTMENT. I believe your life has taken you on an amazing journey and we have benefited from your insights of God, the church, and life in general. Bless you and pray for God’s grace during your challenge with Parkinson’s.

  10. Grace Vine says:

    The Faith Angle seminar makes such wonderful good sense. Any chance of starting one here in Australia???? It is needed for the same reason it’s needed in the US. Thank you for shining the light on the real problem – lack of listening to both sides.

  11. Jacqueline King says:

    You remind me of the wheat stalk that grew up next to a toxic weed. Your life giving seeds of honesty, respect, and integrity will spread and continue to feed many hungry people. Thank you. May God continue to bless and enrich your life just as you do for others.

  12. Joseph says:

    Like your blog, what concerns me is you mention 1% Muslims in America and 64% Americans are Christians one can feel the presence of 1% and 60 above Christians should introduce there uniformed faith to the Journalists, when 12 diciples of Jesus disturbed whole world, questions to ask is whats gone wrong.

  13. Thank you for a lifetime of “representing” the evangelical view that doesn’t wave a brand of politics or come across as toxic. You’ve always pointed to Christ with a humble honesty. Open conversations are priceless.

  14. Nicola says:

    Do not be so hard on the millennials. They NEEDED to deconstruct from a christianity that had no Christ in it! Yet many ARE indeed finding God in ‘diverse ways and diverse places,’ for God is as creative as humanity is rigid! In fact I have such hope in the up and coming generations! They think! They explore, they reach out. And they realised that much of the middle class religion they were taught is not religion at all but control and manipulation blaspheming the name of Jesus to do it.

  15. K.Terry Brown says:

    Divisions in democratic culture are more a function of lack of empathetic listening than outright rancor. Our enemy is the darkness which is trying to swallow us all.

  16. Hill Roberts, from Huntsville AL says:

    Thank you Philip.
    I want to share this with our minister in the small highly conservative congregation of a Church of Christ I attend. It’s risky. May God bless you as you face new challenges ahead.
    Hill Roberts

  17. Eddie Chu says:

    Your sharing of your life in Where it Light Fell was painfully honest and non-judgmental. My wife and I both see parts of our “spiritual upbringing” that you had. We, too, have been “scrubbing off” our narrow-minded, self-righteous, and judgmental grime and dirt to discover the pearl that is loving heart and mind of Christ.
    Thank you for sharing. Your sphere of influence is much extensive that that of ours, but we all should let the Christ light shine through us and hopefully to reach those whom God calls us to touch.

    P.S. We are studying your book on Prayer in a mainline church in Ontario and your book continues to invoke passions to pray in our Bible study grouP.

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