Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014

Blessed Feathers Appear on NPR's "Morning Edition," Spark Heated Religious Debate

By Evan Rytlewski
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The West Bend folk duo Blessed Feathers have a back story fit for a movie. After relocating from Florida to Wisconsin, Jehovah's Witness Donivan Berube landed a job at a pizzeria and fell for his co-worker and bandmate Jacquelyn Beaupre. To pursue that relationship, he broke from the church, a decision that meant disassociating himself from most of his friends and family when he was just 18 years old.

Though it doesn't define the group, that story echoes through Berube's many songs about exile and rebuilding, and featured prominently in NPR's Morning Edition profile of Blessed Feathers this week. That segment proved unusually contentious for a quick "Music We Missed" piece, drawing the ire of dozens of commenters who took issue with Berube's portrayal of Jehovah's Witnesses. Some of the commenters cited scripture to argue he'd misrepresented them; others made personal accusations.

In response, Berube posted a long statement on the band's website yesterday making it clear that, as he stated in his NPR interview, he bears no grudges against his former faith.

An excerpt:

Over the course of the day, 70-something people felt moved enough by the story to leave a comment, presenting us with scroll-like threads full of all kinds of opinions. Things like: “In your ignorance, NPR newsstaff, you have allowed Mr. Berube to twist the facts. His motive was obviously to sensationalize his story so as to get air time.” Or: “This young man isn’t telling the whole story. It is not the Romeo and Juliet story that was told. I’m sure this young lady is very nice he could have married her and had his music and family.”

First let me say this: This was a four-minute ‘Music We Missed’ segment, not some hour-long Terry Gross opus on religion. Maybe I did tell the whole story, but parts of it got lost in the fact that they had to edit our one-hour interview down to just a few minutes. Or maybe everyone was missing the point entirely, maybe all these people hadn’t even listened to our music, and were only interested in arguing against my backstory. Regardless of your religious views, what we presented in this story is merely biographical. I tried to hide our relationship from my friends and family, but the more obvious it became, the more I heard things like: “You know Donivan, she’s tall like you, she’s nice like you, and she even plays music like you, but she’s not a Jehovah’s Witness. Why don’t you try bringing her into the truth? Why don’t you invite her to the Kingdom Hall sometime?” A lot of the comments on our story were in relation to this, and the harder your arguments were fought, the more ashamed I became of what I’d started here. You’ll notice in the interview, around 1:45, that I tried to explain my understanding of what’s happened. I didn’t want this to turn into an anti-religious or anti-JW segment, because that’s not how I feel. You all have your strong faiths, which is great. My family has their strong faiths, and they’ll take care of each other. People in India have their faiths, and people in the Middle East have their faiths too. Do not throw stones at Jehovah’s Witnesses. Do not throw stones at ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses. Do not throw stones at Muslims, Mormons, Christians, Catholics, or Atheists. Every believer in every religion knows that they are right, that what they’re doing is true, and I have nothing but the highest respect for that. But then this article turned into a messy little cage for adults to play war in. Many of you posted scriptures arguing for or against aspects of our story, and somehow the US Constitution came under fire. I don’t know why, but you even brought up legal versus biblical rape and slavery. You’re right, I could have talked Jacquelyn into becoming a Jehovah’s Witness, or I could have stayed a Jehovah’s Witness and married her anyway. What does it matter? I made those choices years ago, and the fact that I was going to lose everyone was a consequence I had already accepted.
You can stream Morning Edition's Blessed Feathers segment here, and read Berube's full response here.
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