There's a new church in the Houston area — and it's drawing a ton of media coverage.
Protesters showed up at Saturday's first service of the Greater Church of Lucifer in Spring, Texas, and the Houston Chronicle gave the clash prominent play in Sunday's print edition:
The centerpiece headline on the City-State section front:
Protesters denounce Church of Lucifer
Spring group's first service marked by demonstrators against alleged Satanism
Alleged Satanism, huh? This ought to be interesting.
Let's start at the top:
Protesters holding signs in Spanish and English stood Saturday along the road leading to the Greater Church of Lucifer as the church in Spring held its first service.
The signs proclaimed the power of Jesus, and one protester blew a horn fashioned from antlers. They said they attended various Houston-area churches as well as a few from other cities and states.
The Luciferians, who use the name Lucifer because it is Latin for "light bearer," say they do not worship Satan or practice animal sacrifice. Most of the protesters refused to believe it.
"They said it was in the news that they were building a satanic church in Spring," said Esther Limbrick, 77, of Spring. She predicted that God would bring a flood that very day to wash away the Luciferian church.
"I'm here to stand against a satanic church," said Christopher Huff, 46, a deacon and self-described evangelist from the Conroe Bible Church. Huff joined others pacing uttering prayers - sometimes shouting them - at the intersection of Spring Cypress Road and Main Street a few hundred feet from the Church of Lucifer. Huff said he had seen the Greater Church of Lucifer web site and described it as filled with "satanic symbols and lies."
So right from the beginning, a key point of dispute emerges: The Luciferians say they're not Satanists. The protesters insist they are.
Keep reading, and the Chronicle writer — a generalist, not a Godbeat pro — basically presents the matter as a "he said, she said" kind of back and forth.
Overall, the protesters come across as kind of nutty (and maybe they are). The Luciferians, on the other hand, are presented as normal folks who just want to get together to discuss topics such as altruism and selfishness (and maybe they are).
At one point, the story notes:
Owners of businesses next to the Luciferians declined give their names, but all of them said the Luciferians were good neighbors and that they feared the protesters.
You get the idea of who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, right?
But here's what I wish: I wish the Chronicle had offered just a little more context. And I wish the newspaper had done just a little more reporting. The newspaper knew about the church's planned opening weeks in advance, after all.
What might that context have looked like? Well, perhaps after quoting protester Huff as saying the website is filled with "satanic symbols and lies," the Chronicle could have described those symbols in the story and let readers form their own opinion.
For example, the Christian Examiner reported recently:
The church's symbolism, however, is decidedly Satanic. The church features figures of horned creatures, fallen angels and a Baphomet, a statue of a winged creature with hooves, the head of a goat and long horns. The statue is nearly identical to the statue placed in Detroit by the Satanic Temple* recently. Organizers of that group initially tried to place the statue next to monuments of the Ten Commandments on the grounds of Oklahoma and Arkansas state capitols.
Meanwhile, the Christian Broadcasting Network interviewed a local Baptist pastor who calmly and rationally discussed his perception of the Greater Church of Lucifer:
Certainly, the protesters are a key voice for a reporter covering this story. But presenting the full picture of local Christian reaction would benefit from calling a few area pastors who aren't marching and holding signs. Too often, journalists (myself included) only quote folks at the extremes when many important voices can — and should — be found in the middle.
Another area in which more reporting would have helped: The Chronicle could have interviewed an independent theological expert to offer insight on the Greater Church of Lucifer.
Among the possible questions: Is this a Satanic church or not? And how do Luciferians compare — in practices and beliefs — to adherents of Satan who unveiled the Baphomet statue in Detroit and staged a "black mass" in Oklahoma City?
An old journalistic adage says, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out."
In this case, we might adapt that to suggest, "If the Greater Church of Lucifer says it's not Satanic, check it out."
Screenshot image via Greater Church of Lucifer website