God, baseball and missionary work: Do people in Serbia really deny the Resurrection?

Every now and then, journalists have rather technical arguments about the meaning of terms such as "truth" and "accuracy."

For example, what if a reporter quotes a person who is involved a complicated, even emotional, debate and people who reject this person's perspective later call the reporter's editor and insist that this information was untrue and should not have been included in the printed story?

Reporters often respond by saying something like this: "I was covering a very bitter debate. I could not prove that what this expert said is accurate, but my quotes were accurate. It is accurate to state that he said this and his claims are part of the story. Want to hear my recording of the interview?"

Arguments are like that. There are times when people with quite a bit of education, training, skill and personal experience disagree with one another about basic facts.

This brings me to a story that ran recently in The Claremore Daily Progress in Oklahoma -- one that talks about God, baseball and mission work. Here's how it starts:

Spreading the love of baseball and the love of Christianity seems like a perfect fit for Claremore High School Athletic Director Brent Payne.
The longtime baseball coach who hung up his cleats after the 2015 baseball season, is once again joining a local missionary group and heading to Serbia to teach the word of God, and also how to turn a double play. ...
Serbia, a country sandwiched between Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, has a population of just over 7 million.
Baseball, as would be expected, is not the country’s national pastime.

No problem, so far. However, an Orthodox reader out in the wilds of Oklahoma (such people do exist) had a spew-your-drink-of-choice moment when he hit this statement in the original version of the story that appeared in print, and on the newspaper's website.

These missionaries, said Payne, knew they would not be in Bible Belt territory.

“We have to be very careful,” Payne said. “The country of Serbia is Orthodox. Their basic belief is that God loves everybody and Jesus was just a prophet, just another good guy. ... They do not believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus."

Whoa there. That will come as a shock to the flocks of Orthodox believers who constantly recite, and defend against all comers, the Nicene Creed.

All together now.

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man;
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried;
And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures;
And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father;
And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets;
And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
We look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the Life of the age to come. Amen.

Trust me, as a kid raised Southern Baptist in Texas, that I know some people down in those zip codes believe that members of ancient, liturgical churches just go through the motions and are not real believers. Tragically, there are, in fact, people in all religious traditions who are just going through the motions and they may not believe the words they are speaking.

Now, I have no doubt that it is accurate to say that Coach Payne said those blunt words and that he believes them to be true. Were his words accurate? In one sense of the word, yes.

However, I believe that he Rev. Billy Graham was telling me the truth (in the 1980s, before I converted to Orthodoxy) when it told me -- in a discussion of his evangelistic work with various Christian flocks -- that no church "preaches the reality of the Resurrection more than the (Eastern) Orthodox."

So what did the editors in Claremore do in this case? Well, the online version of that story now ends like this:

(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about Christianity in Serbia.)

Could the editorial team there have produced a story that took this issue seriously, reaching out to Orthodox leaders in the region for their point of view? Could they have asked this coach and missionary to respond?

Of course. That would have been a valid approach for journalists to take on this kind of issue.

Would this story have provoked debate?

Oh. My. God. Look at the comments!

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