Ouch! Those headlines!

gotcha1Here is a fact about daily journalism that every reporter wants news readers to grasp: Reporters rarely, rarely write the headlines that appear above their stories. Nothing bothers a reporter more than having to take calls from readers who are mad about a headline, especially when the headline does not reflect the contents of the new story.

I bring this up because of two classic examples from the past few days. Consider the headline above religion writer Julia Duin's Washington Times report about the Soulforce visit to Hope Christian Church here in the Washington-Baltimore area. And without delay, here is that headline (which was, I admit, written for a tough two-column slot on an inside page):

Christians, gays not of one accord

Ouch. Which, of course, means that members of the Soulforce gay trights organization -- which is a coalition of religious liberals of various kinds -- are not Christians? It is true that the Soulforce "Equality Ride" project included some young riders who were not believers. However, as a whole, the organization is a prime example of an active coalition on the religious and, primarily Christian, left.

This is the more complex reality that emerges in Duin's news report. This was a dinner discussion between two groups of believers, separated by their clashing approaches to 2,000 years of Christian doctrine and moral theology.

While there was no rancor or overt anger, there also was no meeting of minds. After nearly 90 minutes of debate Saturday night, no one on either side of the question of what the Bible teaches about homosexuality would admit to changing their minds.

"It was noncombative, nonpunitive dialogue," said the Rev. Troy Sanders, a gay black pastor from Atlanta who was one of the Soulforce speakers. Soulforce members queried after the dinner said they were pleased with their reception, and several said they would attend Hope Christian's Sunday service.

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of the 3,000-member church, acknowledged the evening was "historic" but made no promises about any changes in teaching or policy. "We'll have to pray about discrimination issues in the gay community," he said.

Read it all and you'll see what I am talking about. The doctrinal split is clearly between two different approaches to Christian faith.

As a quick follow-up, here is an even more more glaring case of a headline not fitting the contents of the story, drawn from the Telegraph over the big pond. The headline:

Pope Benedict attacked by Catholic Church's most senior theologians

Now the lede:

One of the Catholic Church's most senior theologians, and former mentor to Pope Benedict XVI, has launched a stinging attack on the Vatican.

Father Hans Kung, 80, a Swiss priest and professor at Tubingen university said it was a "tragedy" for the Catholic Church that Rome had failed to follow the path of liberalisation set out by the Vatican II council in 1965.

Over at Catholic World News, the ever edgy Diogenes had lots of fun with this one, starting with the plural headline and the singular lede.

Wait a minute: You mean one of the most senior theologians? The headline used the plural form. And wait a minute, again: A "former mentor" of Benedict XVI? The Holy Father isn't exactly young, you know. Are any of his old teachers still alive?

Actually, no. The "most senior theologians" turn out to form a set of one: the irrepressible Hans Kung, who qualifies as a "mentor" because he once recommended Joseph Ratzinger for a post on the theology faculty at Tubingen.

And so forth and so on. How in the world did that headline happen? It's been up there for days, screaming, "Please correct me."

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