Interview with Peter Jennings
The anchor discusses Jesus, religion--and his own faith
The story--or, The Story--is simply "irresistible," says Peter Jennings. The search for the historical Jesus has all the elements of a great tale: mystery, drama, history, politics, and a charismatic personality. "This is a good story," and, he says, "my God, it isrelevant."
Though books and magazines have trafficked in Jesus scholarship for years, "The Search for Jesus" is a landmark for prime-time network television. It is, in a way, not surprising that Jennings and ABC would be the ones to do it. As a former Middle East correspondent, Jennings has long been fascinated by religion. He has been sharply critical of how the media cover religion and likes to boast that ABC is the only network to have a full-time religion reporter.
Will the show be controversial? Jennings has heard criticisms that the show relied too heavily on the Jesus Seminar, a group of controversial scholars who challenge the historical accuracy of many key elements of the New Testament. (Jennings counters that those scholars are well-balanced in the show by more conservative academics.) More important, the very premise--a journalistic look at Jesus--will strike some as, at best, beside the point, and at worst, offensive.
Jennings recently sat down to talk about Jesus and the show with Steven Waldman, editor-in-chief of Beliefnet, which starting Monday will host a weeklong discussion about "The Search for Jesus."
Jennings also discussed, reluctantly but ultimately revealingly, his own faith.
There may be some who would say the whole idea of searching for evidence [is misguided]. Religion is not about documentation--it’s about faith.
Jennings: I’m beginning to appreciate the notion that what I guess I correctly or incorrectly refer to as “literalists” will not accept the premise that you can go looking for evidence of the man.... I always knew that we might offend some people who think it's not a legitimate exercise in the first place. I don’t know how to answer that except that as a journalist, one tends to think there’s nothing off limits. I similarly hoped--maybe this is inadvertently intended as advertisement--but I do hope that for literalists, they may find that this broadcast makes Jesus the man accessible to a wider audience.
Beliefnet: What effect did it have on you?