3 opportunities to cover kids and religion

Children from Joint Base Lewis-McChord and surrounding communities play during a Vacation Bible School Wilderness Escape July 16, 2014. (Sgt. Daniel Schroeder via Wikimedia Commons)

BuzzFeed recently released two videos on kids and religion, highlighting young people’s interesting beliefs about God and hell. The project showed how rewarding it can be to explore children’s cares and concerns, which are often different from what adults assume.

Young people sometimes get lost on the faith beat, whether because coordinating interviews with parents is a headache or most surveys focus on adults. But many faith-related policy debates and societal trends affect children, too, and finding ways to share their stories can help you stand out.

Here are three opportunities to write about kids and religion right now, as well as the sources who can help you do it.

1. Adoption drama

Debates about the rights of LGBT Americans didn’t end when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in June 2015. Courts and legislatures are still sorting out conflicts between LGBT rights activists and religious objectors to same-sex marriage, including in the adoption and foster care context.

In 2018, two states passed new protections for faith-based adoption agencies, which allow them to turn away same-sex couples. There are also two high-profile lawsuits on this issue happening right now, in Michigan and Pennsylvania. These resources will help you write about how these ongoing clashes affect kids.

Related readings

Potential sources

  • Elizabeth Bartholet

    Elizabeth Bartholet is a law professor at Harvard University and faculty director of the school’s Child Advocacy Program, which she founded in the fall of 2004. She has taught civil rights and family law, specializing in child welfare, adoption and reproductive technology. She wrote Family Bonds: Adoption and the Politics of Parenting.

  • Melissa D. Carter

    Melissa D. Carter is executive director of the Barton Child Law and Policy Center at Emory University School of Law. 

  • Leslie Cooper

    Leslie Cooper serves as deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project. Over the last two decades, she’s worked on many cases related to the rights of LGBT adoptive parents.

  • Ellen Herman

    Ellen Herman is a professor of contemporary American history at the University of Oregon and the creator of the Adoption History Project. She is the author of Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States, which examines the history of modern adoption.

  • Emilie Kao

    Emilie Kao is director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation. She specializes in legal conflicts related to religious freedom.

  • Katy Perkins

    Katy Perkins is a social worker in Dallas who specializes in adoption, domestic violence, LGBT issues and peace building. In 2017, as the Texas Legislature considered new regulations related to adoption, religion and same-sex couples, she co-wrote an article on the danger of allowing foster parents to force their religion on children.

    Contact: 214-536-8384.
  • Gary Schaer

    Assemblyman Gary Schaer is a democratic member of the New Jersey General Assembly. In 2018, he sponsored legislation seeking to ensure that children up for adoption are placed with families who share their faith.

    Contact: 973-249-3665.
  • Andrew Whitehead

    Andrew Whitehead is an associate professor of sociology and director of the Association of Religion Data Archives at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He researches the relationship between religion and other social forces, such as the family.

  • Robin Fretwell Wilson

    Robin Fretwell Wilson is the co-director of the Family Law and Policy Program at the University of Illinois, where she also teaches. She is also the director the Institute of Government and Public Affairs for the University of Illinois System. Her books include Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground and The Contested Place of Religion in Family Law.

  • Lori Windham

    Lori Windham is a senior counsel with the religious liberty advocacy group Becket. She has represented faith-based adoption agencies that, for religious reasons, don’t want to serve same-sex couples.

2. Rise of the nonreligious

Around one-quarter of adults today are religiously unaffiliated, according to Public Religion Research Institute. What does that mean for future generations?

The rise of the nonreligious helped launch a conversation about how secular parents affect a child’s moral and spiritual development. Here are some scholars and parents able to speak about the growing number of nonreligious kids.

Related readings

Potential sources

  • Ying Chen

    Ying Chen is a research scientist with the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University. She was the lead author of a 2018 study about the relationship between religious and spiritual practices in childhood and adult health outcomes.

  • David Dollahite

    David Dollahite is a professor of family life at Brigham Young University. He studies how religious beliefs and practices affect family relationships.

  • Annette Mahoney

    Annette Mahoney is a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She is co-director of the university’s Spirituality and Psychology Research Team and conducts research on the role, both positive and negative, that religion plays in families and in the transition that couples make to becoming parents.

  • Christel J. Manning

    Christel J. Manning is a religious studies professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. She is the author of Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children.

  • Phyllis Mark

    Phyllis Mark is coordinator of children’s meditation programs at the Birmingham Shambhala Meditation Center in Alabama. The center offers programs for children to learn about Buddhism and meditation.

  • Dale McGowan

    Dale McGowan is the former executive director of the Foundation Beyond Belief, a charitable and educational organization created “to focus, encourage and demonstrate the generosity and compassion of atheists and humanists.” He’s also a full-time writer and a former college professor. McGowan is the editor of Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion and co-author of Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief.

  • Ara Norenzayan

    Ara Norenzayan is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He authored a 2014 study asking whether religion makes people moral.

  • Lisa D. Pearce

    Lisa D. Pearce is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She studies religious and family dynamics and how they affect a child’s transition to adulthood.

  • Bilge Selcuk

    Bilge Selcuk is an associate professor of psychology at Koc University in Turkey. She co-authored a 2015 study showing that religious children are less altruistic than other children.

  • Phil Zuckerman

    Phil Zuckerman is a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif. He is the author of The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies.

3. Trendy ways to spread the faith

Smartphone apps, book subscription boxes and video games don’t have to be secular. Increasingly, religious groups are using these trendy forms of entertainment to share their faith in new ways.

These articles and experts will help you write about unique ways kids are learning about tough religious concepts and whether creative games and books are effective evangelism tools.

Related readings

Potential sources

  • Amin Aaser

    Amin Aaser is the founder and managing director of Noor Kids, an organization that creates and sends books on Islam to Muslim children each month.

  • Vern Bengtson

    Vern Bengtson is a professor of gerontology and sociology emeritus at the University of Southern California. He studies family relationships across generations, as well as how religious beliefs are passed from parents to children.

  • Heidi Campbell

    Heidi Campbell is a professor of communication at Texas A&M University. She has researched a variety of topics, including online faith communities, new media ethics and the relationship between digital culture and religion.

  • Gregory Grieve

    Gregory Grieve is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He studies digital religion, including how religious practices and beliefs are represented in video games.

  • Ricardo Grzona

    Ricardo Grzona is the executive president of the Ramon Pane Foundation, which developed an app for Catholic kids, based on Pokemon Go, called Follow JC Go.

  • Meredith Lewis

    Meredith Lewis is director of content and engagement at PJ Library, a program that provides free books on Jewish practices and holidays to kids each month. She can be contacted through Shannon Craig Straw.

  • Cheryl V. Minor

    The Rev. Cheryl V. Minor is director of the Center for the Theology of Childhood at the Godly Play Foundation, which trains congregations on childhood spiritual formation. She also serves as co-rector of All Saints’ Church in Belmont, Mass.

  • Kevin Schut

    Kevin Schut is a professor of media and communication at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, Canada. He studies the intersection of religion, culture and technology, with an emphasis on video games. In 2013, Schut published Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.