The image above, from a study by the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Dr. Gina A. Zurlo, co-director of Center for the Study of Global Christianity, drew from a variety of sources (including the World Christian Database, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations) to create a one-hundred person village model representing the demographics of the world’s 2.5 billion Christians.
Zurlo’s study indicates: “A typical Christian today is a non-white woman living in the global South, with lower-than-average levels of societal safety and proper health care. This represents a vastly different…Christian than that of 100 years ago, who was likely a white, affluent European.”
That Christianity today is of a mostly female, underprivileged, southern-hemisphere-dwelling, non-white countenance might surprise those who follow Catholic media. Quite simply, the woman typified in Zurlo’s study, someone who is underprivileged and of a non-European ethnicity, rarely appears as a central figure in current Catholic television programming, radio, or film.
This is the opposite of what the aim of our media ought to be. As the Holy Father reminds us in Fratelli Tutti, the digital world (particularly the internet) is a potentially unifying agent that
“Can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which in turn can inspire solidarity …We need constantly to ensure that present-day forms of communication are in fact guiding us to generous encounter with others, to honest pursuit of the whole truth, to service, to closeness to the underprivileged and to the promotion of the common good” (FT 205).
With this in mind, and with a glance at the demographics of Catholic broadcasting today, it is clear that our diverse human family has not truly been integrated throughout the various levels of our digital communications.
To learn more about the disparity between the demographics of Catholic media and those of the global Church, I’ve asked minority Catholic women who are actively writing, speaking and teaching about the faith to discuss to this underrepresentation. I asked them to speak to the advantages of affluence, and to comment on their own paths into the limelight.
Featured today is Jaime L. Waters, PhD, an associate professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago. (You can read the articles she has written for America Magazine here.) This is our interview.
The original study [from Gordon-Conwell] underscores a vastly different demographic than we see represented in today’s Catholic media. Do you have any thoughts or reactions to this? Does Catholic media need to play “catch up” with regards to diversity in its ranks?
Dr. Waters: I think it’s important for the Church to recognize and appreciate its diversity and changing demographics. Appreciation in this context should inspire Catholic media to elevate diverse voices, not only to “catch up” but to acknowledge the important contributions of all people, especially those who have been historically underrepresented or marginalized.
It seems there’s a link between affluence and race as demonstrated by the present demographic in Catholic American media. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. Waters: Wealth can afford people access to a variety of resources, including media platforms. Catholic media outlets should be mindful of this and be intentional about offering space for many voices.
Can you tell us a little about how you came to be in Catholic media and highlight the factors that helped you along the way?
Dr. Waters: I recognize that my position as an associate professor played a significant role in why I was invited to publish in Catholic media. Of course, many people publish without such credentials, but in my case, academic and professional achievements were important factors. I don’t think this is a detriment; rather, it’s an asset.
It’s important for informed scholars to help lead public discourse. Nonetheless, people who may not be in such privileged positions should also be invited to the table. I was referred by a fellow academic. People who are actively engaged in Catholic media should think broadly about what voices are elevated.
How should [the Christian woman revealed in the study] be cared for, as well as given opportunities to care for herself, as she brings forth the future of the Church on her chosen path? What concrete steps can Catholic media take to make this happen? Can our position of affluence in the globe benefit “she who is most in need?” Are you aware of any initiatives to reach out to the “woman” mentioned in the study, in this country or elsewhere?
Dr. Waters: I think Catholic media outlets should advocate for people who are often forgotten, but it is equally important to give access for people to advocate for themselves. Concrete steps might include researching and reporting on diverse people around the globe. Interviewing and inviting contributions from those who might be “like the typical Christian woman in the study” would enable people to speak for and advocate for themselves.🔅
I would like to thank Dr. Waters for her insights. During this Black History Month, let us unite our prayers with St. Josephine Bakita, patron of Sudan, and pray for all women living in unsafe conditions without access to proper healthcare. St. Bakita, pray for us!
Image: Adobe Stock