Saints, sinners ... and strippers

Readers of The Columbus Dispatch woke up Monday to strippers -- above the fold on Page A1, no less. Not to worry, though. The strippers spent Sunday at church, so there was actual news value to the story.

The headline across the top of the front page was quite punny:


Churchgoers, strippers protest one another in Coshocton County

Likewise, the top of the 800-word story is filled with vivid, colorful language that's sure to draw readers in:

WARSAW, Ohio -- Strip-club owner Tommy George rolled up to the church in his grabber-orange Dodge Challenger, drinking a Mountain Dew at 9 in the morning and smoking a cigarette he had just rolled himself.

Pastor Bill Dunfee stepped out of a tan Nissan Murano, clutching a Bible in one hand and his sermon in the other, a touch of spray holding his perfectly coiffed 'do in place.

Inside the New Beginnings Ministries church, Dunfee's worshippers wore polyester and pearls.

Outside, George's strippers wore bikinis and belly rings.

Both men agree it is classic sinners vs. saints. But George says it is up to America to decide which is which and who is who.

Dunfee says God already has chosen.

I love the first paragraph. It provides concrete-specific language that can't be challenged. A grabber-orange Dodge Challenger can't be anything else. Nor can a Mountain Dew or a just-rolled cigarette.

I'm not as head over heels about the second paragraph. Is the pastor really "clutching" a Bible? Or would "holding" or "carrying" be a better word? I have no way of knowing because I wasn't there. Similarly, the description of "a touch of spray holding his perfectly coiffed 'do in place" contains just a bit too much opinion for my tastes.

Likewise, I don't doubt that the strippers wore bikinis and belly rings. I'm not so certain that I believe the worshippers, as a general rule, wore polyester and pearls. A GetReligion reader who saw the story in the Dispatch voiced his skepticism in an e-mail:

"Take a look at the photos (with the story) -- the congregation seems to look pretty average to me, certainly not some 'polyester and pearls' fundamentalist stereotype. And I haven't found a photo of the pastor yet, but do you really think -- given the size of this church and the way his congregation is dressed -- that the pastor's hair is really coiffed?"

Again, I have no way of knowing because I wasn't there.

But the story does resort to cliches in a few places, describing the protest as "a long time coming" and saying the dancers "have turned the table." And, oh yeah, "turnabout is fair play." That's not to say that the reported coiffed hair and polyester clothes are cliches, but I can't help but wonder.


There's also a reference to "the fire and brimstone being preached in the tidy church building." But that's the extent of the reporting on the sermon. Whether the reporter actually sat down on a pew and heard a "fire and brimstone" sermon or just assumed that's what was preached, it's impossible to tell based on reading the story. We don't even find out the denominational bent, if any, of the church.

Buried in the story -- but left unexplored amid the cliches and surface-level reporting -- is this remarkable scene:

(The dancers) sat in front of the church and waved at passing cars but largely ignored the congregation behind them.

Likewise, the churchgoers largely ignored the dancers. Except for Stan Braxton. He stopped and held hands with Lola, a 42-year-old dancer who made $200 on her Saturday night shift, and prayed for her salvation.

Lola, who wouldn't give her last name, said she was grateful for Braxton's prayers and his time.

The women don't come here, after all, without their own version of religion. They bring signs with Scriptures written in neon colors:

Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing

Revelations 22:11: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still

Am I the only one who would like to hear from Braxton? Why did he stop? What did he say in his prayer? What does he think about the dancers? Does he believe in fire and brimstone for strippers?

Am I the only one who would like to hear more from Lola and the women with the Scripture signs? Do they believe in God? Did they grow up attending church? Do they love Jesus? What's the point behind the Bible references?

If I'm the reporter -- and the editor -- I eliminate some of the quotes from the blowhard strip-club owner and the (allegedly) coiffed-hair pastor and dig deeper with folks such as Braxton and Lola.

Do that and this scintillating report suddenly starts to resemble actual journalism.

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