Dallas-area megachurch pastor Ed Young has a knack for making headlines.
In my time with The Associated Press, I profiled Young and his father (also named Ed and a prominent Texas pastor). On the Sunday that I attended the son's church, he arrived on stage driving a green Ferrari Spider 355, a prop for a sermon titled "RPM," for Recognizing Potential Mates.
Another time, Young figured prominently in an AP story I wrote on churches confronting nutrition and fitness. The angle: His church banned Krispy Kreme doughnuts from its Sunday morning menu after Young preached on the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Just a few months ago, Young drew national attention for a 24-hour "Sexperiment" with his wife, Lisa, on the church roof.
This past week, the boundary-testing pastor again made headlines (although not the kind he appreciated) when he featured a live lion and a live lamb in his Easter sermon.
In the good ole days, one of The Dallas Morning News' three (or was it four?) full-time Godbeat pros would have been all over this story, providing the full details, theological insight and helpful context. In the leaner present day, the paper's environmental writer handled the story.
The top of the Morning News' report:
Animal-welfare advocates are angry about a pastor’s use of a live African lion and an almost-newborn — and apparently terrified — lamb to deliver his Easter message.
The church says the creatures helped bring the curious to God.
The Rev. Ed Young, senior pastor of Fellowship Church-Grapevine, brought predator and prey within feet of each other during Sunday’s Easter services.
The fully maned male lion was in a cage. A video of the sermon on the church’s website shows the lion reacting aggressively, apparently in response to a trainer’s hand signals. At other times, the lion appeared to take a nap.
The lamb was in the arms of Young, who stood several yards from the cage. The video does not prove that the two animals saw each other, but the lion looked toward the pastor and lamb while the lamb bleated constantly.
Young apparently declined to talk to the Dallas newspaper, which had to rely on a church spokesman to defend the use of the lion and the lamb. The spokesman released a statement quoted by the paper:
“We were very excited about the thousands who joined us this past Easter weekend and believe fully in the message they heard about God’s plan and purpose for their lives through Jesus Christ,” the statement said.
Fellowship Church is among those who “share God’s standard for respect for animals,” the church said.
Young promised the use of more animals in coming weeks.
The statement leaves me wondering what the church sees as God's standard for respect for animals. Also, I'd love to know what other animals will be featured — and why.
The story is pretty thin. An animal-rights activist who attended the service gets lots of space to complain. Other quotes are taken from Internet postings on the church website and a humane society's Facebook page.
Meanwhile, readers must settle for a vague explanation of the place of the lion and the lamb in the sermon. Whether that's the reporter's fault — or the pastor's — is unclear.
One paragraph of the story references a Scripture:
During the service, Young quoted from Revelation 6:5: “Then I saw a lamb, looking as if it had been slain,” but standing alive. He then described Jesus as “a lionlike lamb and a lamblike lion.”
I Googled the Scripture, curious to see how the "but standing alive" part that the writer paraphrased actually read. But Revelation 6:5 read completely differently than quoted above (although it did mention a Lamb):
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.
So I Googled the quote itself. It turns out that Young actually quoted Revelation 5:6:
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
The fact that the Morning News messed up such a simple detail as the verse cited does not inspire a lot of confidence in its ability to convey the deeper meaning.