From the Editor: What follows is an interview with Rena Pederson. Pederson is a world-renowned journalist and author, having interviewed such leaders as Fidel Castro, Margaret Thatcher, Julia Child, Jane Goodall, and several US presidents. Her latest book shares the unbelievable story of Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, Aung San Suu Kyi.
I first encountered Rena’s voice in the soft, newspaper like pages of her book, The Lost Apostle. That was back in 2011 when God was starting to spin the wheel on my journey to uncover the truth about the women of the Bible. Rena’s book was a significant part of my journey and her friendly writing style reminded me of a big sister. It wasn’t until a few years later that I first contacted her. I was sitting around, waiting for inspiration to strike when I felt a Holy Spirit-led unction to get in touch with Rena and share a piece of my heart with her. So, I did. Although her career as a journalist has been a stellar one and her awards have been numerous, for me, it is Rena’s caring voice that has continued to capture me. It’s my pleasure to share that voice with you all in an exclusive interview for CBE.
Aliyah Jacobs: Rena, you have had a wonderfully distinguished career in journalism, including a Pulitzer Prize finalist position and numerous other awards. Did you always want to be a journalist and what role did your faith play in your media workplace?
Rena Pederson: I was editor of my high school paper in West Texas, which enabled me to work my way through college with jobs on daily newspapers—I have been hooked since then. I started writing about my faith from time to time as an editorial page columnist. I was gratified to get a solidly positive response from readers. They seemed hungry to see more issues put into a spiritual context.
AJ: How important are women in the media framework? Are women seen as equal or less valuable in the media world?
RP: It remains a struggle for women to be taken seriously for top management roles in the media such as publisher or station manager although talented, capable women have won a few of those slots. I find it troubling that there are now bright, credentialed women in network news and cable news and yet they are often expected to dress in tight, low-cut clothing. What exactly are we saying here? That you can’t be feminine and professional in the media without baring your arms and neckline? My sympathies go out to the Hollywood actresses who have started protesting that they are asked inane questions about their manicures on the red carpet at awards events, while the men are asked about their next projects.
AJ: You have met a number of amazing women throughout the years, mention one woman who inspired you?
RP: I have always deeply admired Margaret Thatcher’s great discipline; she slept little more than three hours a night when she was prime minister. When tough decisions had to be made, whether you agree with her views or not, she did not “go wobbly.” But, the most impressive person I have ever interviewed was Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who keeps pressing for democracy in Burma and won’t let up. I admire her courage—she has faced numerous attempts on her life with calm bravery. And, I admire the way she speaks up for honorable values—what used to be called the “Golden Deeds” of altruism, honor, reputation, morals, manners, and integrity. The world could use a little more of that today.
AJ: You spent a number of years researching Junia for your book, The Lost Apostle. Why did you feel drawn to this topic and how important is it for other women to know about the female leaders of the first congregations?
RP: It was an issue of justice as well as faith. I thought the stories of these brave women needed to be brought from the margins to the forefront. Their examples showed that God works through women as well as men. The women who followed Jesus did not just tend to dinner, they taught, prayed, prophesied, and led the way. We should not overlook their faithful examples or their sacrifices.
AJ: What advice do you have for Christian women wanting to advocate equality through the use of the media?
RP: Speak up. Write letters to the editor when you see slanted articles. Submit opinion pieces that champion women in clergy. Suggest features on the work of remarkable women ministers to the local TV station. You can make noise.
AJ: Your latest book entitled The Burma Spring, was birthed out of ten years of research and interaction with Aung San Suu Kyi, the inspirational lady of Burma. Tell us more about this book and where can people purchase it?
RP: Thanks for asking! I was fortunate to interview Aung San Suu Kyi while she was under house arrest in her home in Rangoon and later when she was released. She is the leading champion of human rights and non-violence in the world today, the heir to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. Her personal story has the dramatic sweep of a “Gone with the Wind” saga. Her father was the father of the democracy movement in Burma after World War II, but he was assassinated when she was only two. She went on to study at Oxford and was married to an Oxford professor, but was separated from her family for more than fifteen years after military rulers placed her under house arrest. She remains the best hope for true reform in that country—and could be a voice for religious tolerance and rule of law around the world. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?