Strange case of the missing Orthodox story

One of the strangest things about writing a weekly column is that funny factor called "lead time." That's the time that elapses between when you write the column and when it appears in print. This is an even bigger hurdle in magazine work, of course. In some journals your lead time might be six months. Anyway, I write my "On Religion" columns on Tuesday nights and edit on Wednesday mornings for a noon deadline at the Scripps Howard News Service here in Washington. In most newspapers, the column appears on Saturday. By definition, this means that I rarely get to cover breaking news and I often end up having to frame columns in interesting ways in order to write about events in which there could be major developments during that Wednesday, Thursday, Friday "lead time" between when the column is finished and when dead-tree-pulp readers see it.

Here is why I bring this up. There was a news event last week involving the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and its decision to quit the National Council of Churches. This presented several challenges, not the least of which was that Antioch is my church. I decided to go ahead and write the story in as straightforward a manner as I could, with as little commentary as possible, because I strive to avoid first person if at all possible. I just quoted the key people and let them speak for themselves. With WWW help, I was able to work in a crucial quote from the key figure on the left who was not available -- with an attribution to Presbyterian News Service.

But I was worried crazy about "lead time." What were the odds of no one writing the hard news version of this story during the entire week that transpired between the event and my column appearing?

Thus, I wrote a soft lead that focused on the annual rites of summer conventions, when religious groups talk about all kinds of things and rarely act on them. In this case, the Antiochian Orthodox had -- like it or not -- done more than talk. If you want to read the column, click here.

Then I sat back and waited for the Associated Press or someone to write the news story. The convention took place near Detroit. Surely the local media would have it. Nope. ’Tis a puzzlement.

I kept Googling the word "Antiochian" in but nobody in the MSM wrote the story until (logically enough) Kevin Eckstrom at Religion News Service covered the hard-news element.

The Antiochian Orthodox Church has decided to pull its membership from the National Council of Churches, a move that some conservatives hope will prompt other churches to leave the liberal-leaning ecumenical body.

The 339,000-member Orthodox church voted to leave the NCC on July 28 during its General Convention in Troy, Mich. The decision to leave the New York-based NCC was supported by its leader, Metropolitan Philip.

Topping a list of grievances, apparently, was the NCC's liberal drift and actions by its outspoken general secretary, the Rev. Bob Edgar. "It got to be too much," church spokesman the Rev. Thomas Zain told Ecumenical News International. "There was no reason to be part of it."

By the way, the Arab-Americans in this flock would bristle at one mistake in this article, the part that said: "The Antiochian Orthodox Church traces its roots to Arab-speaking immigrants who previously belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church."

Well now. The birth of the Church of Antioch is detailed in the Book of Acts and its first leaders were those saints called Peter and Paul. We love our sisters and brothers in Russian Orthodoxy, but Antioch is the older body. I think what RNS meant to say is that in the 19th century, Russian Orthodox missionaries reached America and there was a time -- before that Russian Revolution -- when all Orthodox Christians in North America, including the Arabs, were all in one body linked to Russia. Then this united body tragically broke apart as the great Russian era of Communist persecution caused lines of pain and division and then the formation of multiple Orthodox bodies in this new land.

Thus, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church of North America shares some ties in the United States with the Russians and what is today called the Orthodox Church in America. One of the stories linked to the NCC exit is the growing momentum toward a renewal of Orthodox unity in this land.

Isn't the religion beat complicated?

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