The four-letter word religious writers really want to avoid

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Just this week Texas monthly published a feature article about an East Texas church, the magazine described as “an insular fundamentalist religious group that some consider a cult.” The reporting is strong, but I’m not sure the cult reference is necessary.

I was curious, so I checked my own records to see when I had used the term “cult”: appeared in a 2018 Religion News Service article I wrote on the 25th anniversary of the death of David Koresh and 75 Branch Davidian disciples in a firestorm near Waco, Texas. But the mentions were in a quote and a book title.

A new entry in the Associated Press Religious Style Book Update seems appropriate:

worship Loaded term to be used with caution.

Or even better, as a friend of Godbeat put it, “a together a lot of caution. »

“The only time I use it is when I quote someone using it or with a caveat like ‘a term that most scholars who study religion dismiss for its judgmental tone’ , said Kimberly Winston, a seasoned religious journalist who works freelance for publications such as ReligionUnplugged.com. “To me, that carries the potential to inflict pain on members of the group called a cult, and that’s something I do my best to avoid.”

Kelsey Dallas, which covers religion for the Desert News in Salt Lake City, agreed: “The problem with the word ‘cult’ is that it has a strong negative connotation. By using it, journalists risk drowning out the nuances in the stories people have to tell about their experiences in controversial faith groups. RNA panelists told us they wanted the freedom to share the good memories and the bad.”

For the record, the F-word (fundamentalist) can also be misused in news stories. Here’s advice from the AP stylebook on this term:

fundamentalist The word was used in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on derogatory connotations, except when applied to groups that emphasize strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.

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