When I was a kid, my culturally Jewish parents distributed a mimeographed sheet in our Bronx, N.Y., neighborhood explaining why it was OK to be an atheist.
They would send me outside on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, in torn jeans and a dirty shirt to play ball on our stoop while our neighbors dressed up and went to synagogue.
So I was the least likely person to lead a project at KCPT-TV, the PBS station in Kansas City, Mo., called Beyond Belief. For more than eight months, the project probed the city’s churches, synagogues and mosques, as well as secular gathering places, and asked whether faith communities could help solve the city’s persistent problems of race, class and inequality.
Having lived just 10 percent of my life away from the East or West coast, I was completely unprepared to be in a place where faith is intertwined with so many aspects of life.
The most prominent political leaders in town emerged from churches, including U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a former pastor, and Kansas City Mayor Mark Holland, also a pastor.
I asked Holland if there was any contradiction between his civic and religious roles. Though he’s stepped back from the day-to-day pastoring of Trinity Community Church, he said his Christian duty to the poor has helped focus his efforts on a stressed city trying to make a comeback from years of neglect.
Cleaver, too, made it clear that gun control was a moral issue for him when he sat side by side with Georgia Rep. John Lewis on the floor of the House of Representatives during a civil rights style sit-in last month.