JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Talking about faith can be challenging. Talking about faith in front of 50 million viewers can be terrifying, but not so for Peggy Wehmeyer. Until recently, the first national religion correspondent for a major news network had blazed a trail in religious news for more than 20 years, bringing informative and objective news coverage to religious and faith-based stories.
Citing budget cutbacks, ABC informed Wehmeyer last summer that the religion beat she covered was being eliminated and her contract, up in October, would not be renewed.
While Wehmeyer admitted in a phone interview with Baptist Press that she is enjoying the extra time at home in Dallas being with her husband and their two daughters, she thinks it is unfortunate that there is no religion beat with the national networks.
“There’s a lack of diversity when it comes to religious belief and ideology particularly in the newsrooms of the Northeast and in national news, which has an impact on the coverage of religion,” Wehmeyer said. “As much attention as the media gives to make sure that there’s representation and diversity in the area of race, gender and even sexual orientation, I think it’s time for the media to pay attention to ideological diversity, especially when it comes to religion.”
It is that strong conviction for coverage of faith-based stories that was the kindling for Wehmeyer’s career.
Growing up in a home with a secular Jewish mother and a father who was a “sometimes-practicing” Christian Scientist, Wehmeyer didn’t understand a lot about God until she was a college student at the University of Texas at Austin. Through her involvement with Campus Crusade for Christ on campus, Wehmeyer began studying the Bible and eventually became a Christian.
Her newfound faith answered a lot of questions for her about the purpose and meaning of life, Wehmeyer said, and also helped shape her future career choice — journalism.
“Journalism just seemed to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses,” Wehmeyer said. “And it was such a great fit for my new faith, which is about exposing the truth for light, fairness and honesty — all the tenets of journalism and reporting.
“My own faith had changed my life so much that I was very interested in spiritual things,” she said. “To me, journalism allowed me to have a job where I could speak the truth, do research, study and learn things and remain consistent with my faith practice.”
After she started writing for her college newspaper, however, Wehmeyer began noticing the lack of coverage for stories on religion and faith, a disturbing trend that she continued to observe as a public information officer at Dallas Theological Seminary while she was taking classes there. What was covered, she felt, was being distorted, and people of faith were being misrepresented and misunderstood by the media.
“I thought, wow, here’s an area that nobody’s covering and when it is covered, it’s not covered well,” Wehmeyer said. “And I felt like with the gifts and skills I had, that this was a niche I could fill.”
After persistent conversations with the news directors at WFAA-TV in Dallas, she was eventually allowed to report on the religious stories she was pitching, mainly because no one else would do them. Covering religious and social issues for the station for more than 10 years, Wehmeyer’s thought-provoking and passionate reporting on stories of faith and human nature was soon noticed by ABC News. In 1994, she was hired as the first national religion correspondent at a major network, and during her eight years there she earned the respect and admiration of many Christians in America, landing several exclusives with septuplet parents Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey.
Through the good times and bad, Wehmeyer said it is her faith and her relationship with God that have seen her through.
“I would say my faith was certainly challenged. In a job where you are interviewing leaders on both sides of major religious controversial issues like abortion or gay rights and you’re trying to be fair, there were times that my faith was rattled and challenged,” Wehmeyer said. “But my faith was also strengthened as well, and it helped keep everything in perspective and my priorities in order with my family and my marriage.”
Although people told her she would miss being in the spotlight and would feel lost without the high-profile job to which she had become accustomed, Wehmeyer said she has found that the opposite has taken place.
“I’m just as pleased being a stay-at-home mom as I was speaking to 50 million people in primetime. What makes me glad is that it tells me that I struggled to stay in touch with what really mattered and who I was apart from TV,” Wehmeyer said.
While she admits that the creative juices began to flow again when American missionaries Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer were rescued in Afghanistan, she thinks that a year off sounds pretty good at this point.
“There are so many things that I’ve wanted to do,” Wehmeyer said. “For me to be able to have done what I did and feel good about it, and now to get to be at home before my kids leave for college — it’s a wonderful gift.”
Wehmeyer continues to stay active as a consultant and speaker and by using her gifts to continue to search for truth. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she helped lead a forum on Islam at her church in Dallas, interviewing a local leader of a mosque, and using her skills to do a one-on-one in front of a large Sunday school class.
Now, more than ever, she said she’s aware that her relationship with God is the most important thing in life.
“It’s the one transcendent constant — whether you have a job or don’t have a job, whether you have a high-profile career or whether you are a stay-at-home mom. When Christ is the center of your life, he is the anchor stabilizer for everything.”
Wehmeyer will be the keynote speaker for Union University’s annual spring Union Forum, Friday, Feb. 22, in Jackson, Tenn. For more information, contact the university’s Office of Institutional Advancement at (731) 661-5050.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: PEGGY WEHMEYER.