A tale of two storylines

It's always interesting when two reporters cover the exact same event and come away with strikingly different perspectives. As a reader, the obvious question is: Which of the two scribes has a better handle on this particular story?

To read a Reuters report on dissident church members contemplating a break away from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the big issue is gay clergy:

Presbyterians opposed to gay clergy split from the church on Thursday, announcing in Orlando a new denomination called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.

More than 2,000 Presbyterians from 500 churches witnessed the launch of the new group, which was formed in reaction to a decision in July by the 2.3 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) to permit gay clergy, said John Crosby, president of the order.

"The problem is people are going to hell," John Ortberg, a leader of the splinter group and minister at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, said in a sermon to begin Thursday's events.

The new Presbyterian denomination coincides with recent comments by Pope Benedict, head of the 1.3 billion member Roman Catholic Church, describing gay marriage as one of several threats to traditional marriage that undermine "the future of humanity itself."

Crosby said he wants to prevent ECO from being branded as a one-issue movement, though some Presbyterians see the opposition to gay clergy as the driving reason behind the breakaway.

(As an aside: Does the effort to connect this movement with the pope's recent comments seem strange to anyone besides me? I'm all for journalistic context, but that reference seems like a connection between an apple and an orange.)

Contrast Reuters' treatment of the subject with that by religion writer Jeff Kunerth of the Orlando Sentinel:

Organizers of a new Presbyterian denomination unveiled their vision Thursday for a less bureaucratic, more organic church capable of invigorating congregations that have experienced stagnation or decline.

Under the umbrella The Fellowship of Presbyterians, the new denomination is called the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians — ECO for short.

"The church is a living organism and an organism lives within an ecosystem," Pastor John Ortberg told the convention of 2,150 Presbyterians meeting in Orlando through Friday. "There ought to be an ecosystem that builds flourishing churches that make disciples of Jesus Christ."

Ortberg characterized the Presbyterian Church (USA) as mired in bureaucracy, membership decline, internal strife and a lack of both bold leadership and invigorating theology.

The Sentinel story makes no mention at all of gay clergy.

So which report got the story right? Or perhaps most right? That's an intriguing question. (Here's some background in a Christianity Today story from last summer.)

Strangely enough, the most helpful report I came across was not a news story per se but a blog post by Houston Chronicle religion writer Kate Shellnutt. The reason: Shellnutt provided links to supporting documents and background information that allowed me to investigate the story myself. Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal did the same.

Welcome to the world of news, 2012 style.

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