Tolerance is tricky and problematic.  During my decades in newspaper work, I have followed the rules to give balance to all sides in news stories and not interject my personal observations, beliefs or prejudices.

Meanwhile, during many of the 17 years I focused on religion, especially, I was given the instructions and freedom to write columns, commentaries and blogs that were clearly identified as opinion. I didn’t shrink from that role.  I estimate I have produced more than 5,000 commentaries of one sort or another. Columns ran in the same section of the “Religion” or “Spiritual Life” sections of the East Valley Tribune.

Some newswriters and editors of newspaper sections have chosen never to produce commentaries or columns to comingle with news, even if they could clearly be tagged as opinion.  Their argument is they don’t want to appear to be compromising adherence to objectivity and absence of bias. Saying “how they really feel,” they reason, may close doors on sources to talk to them with maximum candor and information.  That is an issue.

It has been my experience that competent, reasonable and news-savvy people are able to work with  journalists for news stories, even while the writers do free-wheeling commentaries. It seems a waste of a specialist’s developed knowledge, experience and insights to not draw from that in columns or blogs.

It was more than 20 years ago – January 1990 – that then-Tribune publisher Sanford “Sandy” Schwartz asked me to begin writing a weekly religion column in the four-page religion section I was doing each Saturday for the Tribune.  For the next 257 weeks, without a break, I wrote a religion column called “Common Ground.” It was well-received. It was opinion. Next-door, the religion stories were unbiased, balanced news stories.

Since April 2004, I have written about 450 religion-related blogs for the Tribune web site.  I was also doing straight religion columns for the newspaper’s Spiritual Life section until I was part of a massive layoff of staff in January 2009.   My writing of that blog has continued, and earlier this year, I began another independent blog, “Lawn Cares: Someone Has to Say It” (   I am more free these days – in semi-retirement – to call things on issues as I see them.    Often when I criticize the policies and practices of religious faiths, I get the pushback that I am intolerant or that I should let groups be free to practice their faiths as they feel compelled. It is not that easy – or we would be saying let parents raise kids the way they want to (beat them to a pulp, lock them up, deny them schooling, circumcise them against their will, or tattoo “I Love Mom” on their foreheads).  Religions allowed to do what they want could have slaves, sacrifice babies and order members to disobey all civil laws.

Faiths shouldn’t get a pass if what they impose on members amounts to oppression, marginalization, undue suffering or theological servitude. I’m not talking about suffering like monks fasting or a nun leaving her family for years in contemplation.  Much of my writings that may gore faiths have had to do with their attitudes and policies that deny women, minorities, gays and others from the full experience of their human existence.   How God assigned humans – gender, color, sexual orientation, etc. – cannot and should not determine what roles and opportunities they can have in life and in their chosen organized faiths — if they even have such a choice in the first place.

The leave-my-religion-alone crowd make the faulty assumption that all their adherents are in lockstep and embrace all the the rules, teachings and traditions of it.  Not so, and the call to religious justice says they must be called out for unhealthy, unfair practices.

Religious faiths set themselves as the ideal expression of having a relationship to God.  Incumbent is an expectation that, at a minimum, each human is entitled to all that that faith group offers.   That Catholics ban women and married people from clergy roles is intolerable, for example. That hierarchical religions, typically led by white old men, allow no significant decision-making from below is unacceptable. That layer after layer after layer of leadership in the Mormon church are males only is just absurd.

Such faiths’ leaders seem to believe that once they utter, “Our ways are God’s way,” they are off the hook.

Religions are unhealthy, even toxic, when members – often captives by blood, peer pressure and economic necessity – spend lifetimes as second-class people.  And that is why it is not something to be tolerated, and why such religions are worthy of scrutiny and criticism by those willing to speak out.   Sadly reform and remedy may be centuries away — if ever.  In the meantime, people of conscience need to be circumspect about the whole package that each religious faith offers — and choose very carefully.