Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Truth, or Hearsay

Laundry out to dry

As I noted below, the dirty laundry of our church is now out for everyone to see. The problem is that only a few pieces of the wash-load really belong to us. It seems that certain items in the load got very mixed up during the "spin" cycle of our church drama these past few months. I will try, over the next couple of posts, to outline where things have gone wrong in the press.

Christianity Today and Telling the Truth
The title of the article reads "Power Struggle Rocks Hollywood Presbyterian", on the Christianity Today website. As a member of this congregation for more than 20 years, and an elder, I was disappointed by the superficial reporting of this, the most respected Christian magazine. For many years I have relied upon the reporting of Christianity Today (CT henceforth) to keep me informed of developments in both the Christian and contemporary culture.

This was an article I took personally, and a topic about which I know a bit more than, well, the author. And so, I took it upon myself to locate the author, and express my dissatisfaction with his work. I spoke with James Jewell on his cell phone in Atlanta, where he works for a media company as a "stringer" or freelance writer for CT. As it turns out, Mr. Jewell was kind and thoughtful during our 10 minute chat, and listened well to my thoughts. I have been treated kindly by those at CT that I have come into contact with. More on that later.

Unfortunately, Mr. Jewell relied upon highly biased input. His primary source was the church's former director of communications, who was recently fired by the Session, after he publicly renounced the church and its current leadership.

At the end of our conversation, Mr. Jewell offered the thought that he may not have gotten a complete view of both sides of the story. Indeed, he did not. Over the past several months, as our laundry (much of it not really ours, as noted) has been shown to the public via the press, I have found myself remembering the case of Jayson Blair at the New York Times, and the recent case of Newsweek apologizing for a major reporting error. After some thought, it seems the American public might be right in their mistrust of the "fourth estate". I find myself now wondering whether just about anything I read in print is really 100% true.

What makes me the most frustrated in all of this? I feel very disappointed that the supposed apex in Christian news reporting cannot do the proper research and fact checking to tell the story of a complex and sad church split. I also wonder what happened to working toward excellence. Whether it was deadline pressures, poor fact-checking, or just relying on a bad source, the damage has been done. And in this case, it is damage to a situation in our church that already has all the markings of a major traffic accident.

Trying to Tell the Truth

In Journalism, sometimes it helps to have lots of erasers

As some of you may know, our family has spent nearly the last year struggling with a very painful church split. As our church has somewhat of a "storied past", this split has made it, in modest ways, into the press. Having this mess aired in public has been painful, to say the least.

But what has been even more painful yet has been the ways I have seen the press, in several different forms, completely flounder at nearly every attempt to tell the story of what has been going on. I have followed the misreporting and miss steps of these various reports quietly now for some time. Events of the last couple of weeks have brought me out of my quiet place. Its time to speak up, and to tell things as honestly as I know how.

And so, here begins an attempt to set the record straight, in at least a small way. This may take several posts to accomplish, but I think it is worth it. At the end of the day, what I hope results from all this is the beginnings of a movement to unity within the Body of Christ. The saddest part of all of this has been how press reports have served to spread completely erroneous information and further the divide in our congregation. The ugly result of all this has been my experience on this day.

The Last in a Series of Boo-Boos

The most recent article, and the one that will possibly have the widest effect on the way our church is perceived by many is this recent web article, which will soon be in the print edition of Christianity Today magazine. After having this article emailed to me by several friends, and a couple of business clients, and then discussing it with several friends, I decided to attempt to actually contact the writer, in order to clarify some errors and to express my sadness over this whole affair. It is so sad that our dirty laundry has been aired-out, and even sadder that some the laundry that is out on the line now, is not even our laundry.

More on errors, and my conversations with folks from Christianity Today soon.

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