Cover the 1054 schism -- in a sentence

ancientfaithradioOne of our informal house rules here at GetReligion is to try to give reporters the benefit of the doubt, when we spot something fishy, unbalanced or downright messed up in a news report. You see, we know that many, many errors are edited into a story, especially when the story is written by a veteran on the religion beat. We also know that reporters often are not given enough time or space to get a story done right. Thus, we tend to point the finger at organizations rather than individuals. Trust me, your GetReligionistas have been there and we know the pain.

I bring this up, because of a passage I read the other day in a story by veteran Godbeat scribe Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Now, she knows her liturgical-church stuff, including the history.

Still, this passage caught my eye in a report on the growth of Eastern Orthodox radio ministries:

Orthodoxy developed in Eastern Europe and Asia when Christianity split into Orthodoxy and Catholicism in 1054, primarily due to conflict over papal authority.

Immigrants brought it to America, where it developed into a collection of overlapping ethnic jurisdictions with overseas leadership, such as the Greek Orthodox Church and the Serbian Orthodox Church. One recent exception is the Orthodox Church in America, a daughter of the Russian Orthodox Church that became self-governing in 1970.

Now, I know that Catholics and the Orthodox can be a bit sensitive, when it comes to describing the first 1,000 years of Christianity. The schism is not a something that you want to try to describe in a sentence or two. There was one faith, one Communion. Then there was a split. So who left who and who came first? In this case, the idea that "Orthodoxy developed" in 1054 is problematic, to say the least.

I wrote Rodgers, anticipating that she was going to hear from Ortho-people quick. With her permission, here is some of her response. Read carefully.

I'm already hearing from them myself -- which is why I told my editor that it was a bad idea to include any explanation at all since the article was not about Orthodox history. I think people are supersensitive because reporters often do write that Orthodoxy split off from the Catholic Church. But I didn't write that. ...

It was something worked out on the fly when an editor asked for a very, very short explanation of Orthodox history. What I was trying to do was avoid saying that Orthodoxy split from Catholicism or vice versa. If you're going to say that Orthodoxy dates to the first century you're correct, but it was developing jointly with what became Catholicism. In 1054 they began to officially develop separately.

Now, I want our readers who are not journalists to note the crucial theme of brevity. The editors were requesting something that really couldn't be done, no matter how hard the writer worked on that sentence or two. So did Rodgers fail to "get it right"?

This is why GetReligion tries not to pound on the Godbeat pros by name.

Meanwhile, those interested in the growth of Eastern Orthodox in the crazy-quilt diversity of America will want to read the story itself. These two digital "radio" ministries -- Ancient Faith Radio and the Orthodox Christian Network -- are quite interesting and, truth be told, I have friends involved in both.

crtlSo read the story and decide what you think of this Pascha season feature. The key to the whole thing is that both of these organizations are striving to get over ethnicity issues in order to reach the larger whole, including those who are seeking Orthodoxy -- period.

Both Orthodox Internet radio networks are supported by donors and pan-Orthodox, meaning they embrace all ethnicities, but their talk shows are in English. Both offer many podcasts.

OCN, which started as a half-hour program on broadcast radio, is an official ministry of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas. It offers two channels that mix talk and music. One features traditional chant, the other contemporary music -- think rock songs about saints. OCN also offers blogs and Web TV.

Ancient Faith Radio has two channels, one for music and the other for teaching.

The story of radio professional John Maddex includes interesting hooks into the heart of American evangelicalism. Check this out:

Ancient Faith Radio is the creation of a convert.

"This is just a dream come true," said Mr. Maddex, 59, who had an earlier career in evangelical radio, primarily for Chicago's Moody Broadcasting Network, but also at Focus on the Family. "To be able to use 35 years of radio experience to help serve the church is beyond our fondest imaginations," he said.

About 13 years ago, his daughter became engaged to a student at Moody Bible Institute who had converted to Orthodoxy after discovering it in a church history class. Mr. Maddex knew nothing of Orthodoxy, but was sure it was idolatrous superstition due to its veneration of icons, or images, of Jesus and the saints. He agreed to read a book on it, intending to talk his daughter's fiance out of it.

"It kind of backfired," he said.

He started Ancient Faith Radio as a part-time hobby four years ago and made it his full-time business after he left Moody in 2007. Because Web programming is inexpensive and his podcasters are unpaid, the station has a budget of just $160,000.

"On a smaller scale, we want to be the [National Public Radio] for Orthodoxy, with high quality, compelling programming," he said.

Yes, the Moody Bible Institute. It's an interesting story about religious life an interesting age.

The Internet is affecting many different religious groups in different ways and this is just one glimpse into that. Enjoy, once you get past the schism-in-a-sentence issue.

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