Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Response to Poor Reporting

The Eye of the Storm

For the last two posts I have been discussing errors in the media, and more specifically, errors found in this article, by one of America's most respected Christian periodicals, Christianity Today.

As I mentioned, I contacted the writer of the article, and then had the opportunity to correspond via email with the Editor of CT, Mark Galli. Although he started out by indicating that CT "stood by their story", a rather over-used cliche (I have found recently) in publishing, as we corresponded more, his stance softened, and I found a man with a kindred spirit for the health and vitality of the church. As it turns out, Mr. Galli is a former Presbyterian pastor, who has also served on committees in the church that have had to confront the same kind of dysfunction we had been struggling with at Hollywood for some time. So, in a way, the Editor of Christianity today, "gets" the struggle we are going through.

After encouragement from Mr. Galli, and some thought, prayer, and counsel on my part, I have submitted a letter to the Editor. I am reproducing it here in whole, as it will likely not be published until the later in the summer, due to some kind of odd publishing cycle at CT. In a way, this is my best effort to sum up the problems at our church, in as short, simple, and fair a manner as possible, in order to attempt to publicly set the record straight.

Dear Editors:

I am writing in response to your article concerning a “power struggle” at Hollywood Presbyterian church. As a member of this congregation for more than 20 years, and an elder, I was disappointed by your superficial reporting. I have spoken with the writer of this article, who relied upon highly biased input. His primary source was the church’s former director of communications, who was fired by the Session after he publicly renounced the church and its current leadership.

To be clear, the problems at Hollywood have never been about worship styles, or an evangelical congregation in a mainline denomination. Our painful struggle has long been focused on our Senior Pastor, who has alienated key members and leaders for some time. To be fair, the complaints against the Pastor have been from a minority of members, but this minority is comprised of solid evangelicals who worked closely with the Senior Pastor for many years (both elders and staff).

Supporters of the Senior Pastor have chosen to politicize these problems, by accusing the Presbytery of a “liberal plot” to overthrow the church leadership. This is a baseless charge which has distracted many from the real issues. Our local presbytery has known of our problems for some time, and acted to attempt to reconcile a church that was very sick well before the situation called for their involvement; last year’s $840,000 deficit was just one symptom of a deep dysfunction in the church leadership.

Sadly, the pastors in the eye of this storm have not had the dignity to stand up and call for the unity of the church around the person of Christ. Their silence, combined with their efforts to defend themselves, no matter what the cost to the church, have created a far greater divide in our church. This lack of focus on the person and mission of Christ in our church is the greatest tragedy in this long and painful episode.

Steven Norris

And so, there you have it. I was limited to about 300 words, and I used 325. As, I said, the inability of our pastors to stand up for church unity and for the centrality of Christ is the saddest part of all of this. I want to say a bit more about this point soon; stay tuned.

To me, the second saddest part of all this is the way even the Christian press has fouled up getting the story right. As a result, my perception of "journalistic professionalism" has forever been changed.
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