A few years ago, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, a 1982 graduate of Madison West High School, emailed media mogul Arianna Huffington out of the blue.
The two had never met. She immediately wrote back, “Let’s talk.”
What got her attention was Raushenbush’s idea to add a religion section to The Huffington Post, the news website and content aggregator Huffington helped start in 2005.
“Most people are religious or have some sort of religious affiliation,” Raushenbush, 48, remembers telling Huffington. “You need to reach out to them. There needs to be a place for them.”
By the end of 2008, The Huffington Post had launched a section devoted to religion news and comment. Raushenbush was installed as senior religion editor, the position he holds today.
Raushenbush had strong credentials. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York, is an ordained American Baptist minister, and was an original editor for the religion website Beliefnet.com. When he reached out to Huffington, he was associate dean of religious life and chapel at Princeton University.
I met Raushenbush, who lives in New York City, last weekend in Madison. He’d returned to his hometown to move his partner, the noted author Brad Gooch, into a dorm at UW-Madison for an intense, two-month language immersion program in Farsi — research for his next book.
(Although Raushenbush’s denomination officially regards homosexual conduct as “incompatible with Biblical teaching,” Raushenbush said he was not out as a gay man when he was ordained. Since then, a number of Baptist churches have adopted more inclusive views, and there has been no effort to de-ordain him, he said.)
Raushenbush said his heart is “completely ecumenical,” rather than tied to the doctrine of any particular Christian denomination. He grew up attending Covenant Presbyterian Church on Madison’s West Side and had just been to a morning service there when I spoke with him.
He descends from interfaith lineage. One great-grandfather was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish member of the country’s highest court. Another great-grandfather was the renowned social gospel pastor Walter Raushenbusch.
Raushenbush said he seeks to bring this same spirit of religious inclusiveness to The Huffington Post every day.
“Early on, I decided we were not going to have cage matches,” he said. “We’ll let you talk about how good your religion is, but you can’t talk about how bad the other guy is. We are explicitly instructive, not destructive.”
While websites rise and fall on reader hits, Raushenbush said he judges the religion section’s success “not on numbers but on being a respectful place.” Still, “our numbers are very high,” he said.
Raushenbush was scheduled to be back in Madison this weekend for his 30th class reunion. His parents — father Walter was a UW-Madison law professor; mother Marylu, an artist — have since retired to Virginia. His sister, Carla, runs A Perfect Knot yoga center on the city’s Near East Side. Raushenbush retains fond feelings for his hometown. “I’m always bragging it up,” he said.
Religion-related story ideas? Contact Doug Erickson at email@example.com.