Huaroni

Another journalistic take on Brazilian tribes killing their young? Consider this cautious view

Another journalistic take on Brazilian tribes killing their young? Consider this cautious view

This post may -- but is by no means calculated -- to tick off some GetReligion readers.

That possibility is undoubtedly magnified by my taking an alternative position to one of last week’s most popular GR posts, one I believe was so well received because readers identified strongly with its moral point of view.

I’m referring to my colleague Julia Duin’s post on a Foreign Policy story about the Brazilian government’s efforts to outlaw infanticide as practiced by a handful of indigenous tribal groups.

This paragraph gets to the core of the debate tackled in the Foreign Policy piece:

The controversy over child killing has raised a fundamental question for Brazil — a vast country that is home to hundreds of protected tribes, many living in varying degrees of isolation: To what extent should the state interfere with customs that seem inhumane to the outside world but that indigenous peoples developed long ago as a means to ensure group survival in an unforgiving environment?

It comes as no surprise to me that Brazil’s burgeoning evangelical Protestant community is leading the legislative effort. It’s no surprise because as you’d expect, this comports with traditional Christianity’s reverence for human life.

Now, I'm not here to argue theology or public policy. Rather, there’s a journalism point to be made.

Specifically, it's about  journalists' ability to mentally and emotionally distance themselves from their core beliefs about religious and cultural mores long enough to intellectually grasp an alternative viewpoint that's very different than their own -- and even strikes them as appalling.

I'll say more about this a bit below. But first I think it's important to explain my biases.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

SIL missionaries, jungle Indians unexpectedly steer a Jewish reporter toward home

SIL missionaries, jungle Indians unexpectedly steer a Jewish reporter toward home

Want to write about religion in a pluralistic society? Then get comfortable with people who believe differently -- very differently -- than you.

Godbeat veteran Mark I. Pinsky, now an author based in Florida, wrote about this process in his fine book, "A Jew Among the Evangelicals: A Guide for the Perplexed." Pinsky's tale is an excellent introduction to working successfully with a religious subculture quite different from your own. It's must reading for anyone serious about religion reporting.

My own Jew-among-the-evangelicals story unfolded quite differently. I was reminded of it by the recent death of the well-respected evangelical Christian missionary and writer Elizabeth Elliot.

Her life was dramatically altered by the death of her first husband, Jim Elliot, one of five missionaries associated with the Summer Institute of Linguistics (known today as SIL International) killed in 1956 in Ecuador's Amazon region by a group of Huaorani (also spelled Waorani) tribesmen they hoped eventually to convert.

I remember reading about the incident in Life magazine, a mainstay in my childhood home. As I recall, the article was occasioned by a converted Huaorani woman touring the United States with the Billy Graham crusade team. I was fascinated by the story and it stuck with me over the years.

Until 1974, that is.

Please respect our Commenting Policy