Familiar formula

math formulaDaily news coverage of religious controversies lends to a familiar formula. One side is pitted against another. Quippy quotes from both sides are dropped into the article for spice and the reporter is left satisfied that a standard of objectivity was met and the reader will be left informed. This formula is familiar because I have resorted to it, as a young reporter, in the past. The challenge of covering controversial religious issues leaves a reporter with a 15-inch space limit scrambling to sum up the existence of the controversy in the lead, add a few more summary paragraphs with key facts and toss in some one-liners from both sides to fill out the story.

Said formula is followed here by Associated Press reporter Rachel Zoll.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A national meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a proposal Friday that would have allowed gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy under certain conditions.

The measure would have affirmed the church ban on ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians but would have allowed bishops and church districts, called synods, to seek an exception for a particular candidate -- if that person was in a long-term relationship and met other restrictions.

With limited space, Zoll lays out both sides, the development of the issue and the "what's next." Fortunately for those who follow debates like these, more detailed and in-depth reporting on the issue is available in niche publications and magazines. Here, words like "non-celibate gays" and "long-term relationship" are measured, explained and used carefully and the precision of the reporting is much greater.

But what about those who only read the headlines and the first few paragraphs and move on? They are left with a weak description of the issue and are left to interpret the news in a way that best fits their worldview. The goal of objective reporting has its limits in reality.

In related news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church made news by declining to financially protest Israel's security barrier around Palestinian territory.

The Chicago Tribune weighs in:

ORLANDO -- Avoiding a form of protest that has threatened relations between Jews and other mainline Protestants, the nation's largest Lutheran denomination on Saturday denounced Israel's construction of a security barrier around Palestinian territory and called for financial stewardship that did not include divestment.

Instead, church officials emphasized a commitment toward positive economic development in the Holy Land that ensures a secure and viable two-state solution, a shared Jerusalem and a continuation of the church's humanitarian ministries in the Middle East.

But readers of Aljazeera's website received the news from a slightly different tone.

A five-million-strong US church has rebuked Israel for building a separation barrier along the West Bank, becoming the second major US Protestant denomination to reject policies implemented by the Jewish state.

The resolution titled "Peace Not Wall" was adopted on Saturday on a 668-269 vote by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their convention in Orlando, Florida, despite pleas from Jews to refrain from the move.

What appeared in the first line of the Tribune story does not show up until the eighth paragraph of the Aljazeera story. How's that for an extreme example of how two news organizations serving vastly different communities view the same news?

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