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Burying the lede; editing the creed

nz_God_billboardIf, from the very beginning, your GetReligionistas have been complaining that the press does not "get religion," we have also been complaining about the fact that the press does not devote enough attention to the religious left. Now, the press "gets" the religious left when it comes to politics.

In fact, reporters often frame everything that groups on the religious left do in terms of politics. However, it is unfair to portray believers on the liberal side of the sanctuary aisle as mere politicos. It us unfair to portray liberals as people who have beliefs about political issues, but not doctrinal, creedal, biblical and sacramental issues.

So what should reporters do when they are handed a news story that is (a) liberal, (b) not rooted in moral theology about sex, yet (c) clearly rooted in doctrine? The answer should be obvious: They should allow the liberal believers to explain what they believe and how those beliefs have shaped their actions.

Take, for example, that Washington Post story that ran under the boring headline, "Church billboard in increasingly secular New Zealand causes controversy." I thought this was another church vs. Santa story until a few paragraphs down.

Talk about burying the lede! Here's how the story begins:

The Christmas season in sun-kissed New Zealand is normally a chilled-out, festive time more likely to involve beaches and barbecues than robust debates on the story of Jesus's birth.

But this year, many here are caught up in the latter (on the beach and around the barbecue, of course), because of a billboard outside St. Matthew-in-the-City, a towering neo-gothic Anglican church on a bustling street in downtown Auckland.

The poster features Mary and Joseph in bed and apparently naked under the sheets. Joseph looks dejected, while Mary gazes sadly toward the heavens. The caption reads: "Poor Joseph, God was a hard act to follow."

Oh those naughty Anglican vicars. As you would expect, the billboard caused its share of fury, anger most strongly expressed in physical attacks on the image and the theft of the second attempt to post it.

So the story is angry traditionalists? In secular New Zealand?

Much later in the story, readers find out that the billboard is not just an attempt to create public discussions about Christmas. This parish has a unique doctrinal point of view, one that clashes head on with centuries of Christian doctrine and tradition.

This is where the Post made a major error.

Archdeacon Glynn Cardy said the poster was intended to challenge stereotypes about the virgin birth. His church believes that Jesus had two human parents and was conceived naturally.

"We wanted to say to people who are on the margins: If you want to find out about God and Jesus, you don't have to hang up your brain, you don't have to believe in supernatural things. There are Christians who don't believe God is a being in the sky who directs traffic on Earth," Cardy said in an interview.

Anglican readers, did you catch it?

800px-St_Matthew_In_The_City_AucklandThe editors at the Post really needed to ask if Cardy was saying that his church (as in his parish) does not believe in the Virgin Birth or if his Church (as in the Anglican Church in New Zealand) no longer teaches this ancient doctrine.

Either way, the story is that a congregation or a national church in the Anglican Communion put up a rather shocking billboard -- at Christmas -- attacking ancient doctrines about the Virgin Birth. The heart of the story should consist of Cardy and other members of his parish explaining why they believe what they believe and why they did what they did.

In other words, don't bury the lede.

What does it mean when Cardy says that members of his church "don't have to believe in supernatural things"?

What does that mean in terms of other credal doctrines, such as the Incarnation and the Resurrection?

Has this doctrinal approach affected worship in this congregation? What happens, for example, when the person in the pulpit and the people in the pews reach this passage in the Book of Common Prayer, as printed in New Zealand?

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; begotten from the Father before all worlds; God from God; Light from Light; true God from true God; begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father; through whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man. ...

There could be a story in there somewhere. You think?

Photos: The billboard image; St. Matthew-in-the-City Anglican Church, Auckland.

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