United Church of Christ: A really, really big show in eyes of New York Times (updated)

Hello almost elderly GetReligion readers: How many of you out there remember the Ed Sullivan Show? Well, you may recall that his variety-show broadcasts always opened -- even if the top act consisted of people spinning plates on tall sticks -- when the host's pledge that he would be offering viewers a "really, really big show," with that final word sounding rather like "shoe."

In a strange way, that's kind of like the annual parade of summer meetings by America's various religious denominations. The agenda always looks like a big deal -- especially when arguments about sex are on the docket, as they have been for decades.

One way or another, religious leaders always manage to find a way to coat their actions in doctrinal fog, allowing the show to continue the following summer. This frustrates editors no end, especially in this age of tight travel budgets, a squeeze that for religion-beat pros began back in the mid-1980s. I'm not joking about that.

America's liberal Christian denominations have also been known to make headlines -- especially in The New York Times -- by taking prophetic actions on another hot-button issue. That would be economic or political sanctions against Israel.

One of the cutting-edge crews on this issue is the leadership of the United Church of Christ, the bleeding-edge liberal flock (remember those famous and very edgy television ads?) that includes, in its membership, President Barack Obama.

This brings us to another Times report about the ongoing debates about Israel. Read the top of this 850-word story carefully:

The United Church of Christ, one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, overwhelmingly approved a resolution Tuesday calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation or control of Palestinian territories, and a boycott of products from Israeli settlements.
Palestinians and their supporters welcomed the resolution, describing it as an indication that world opinion is isolating Israel. The Israeli government and its backers sharply criticized the church, describing the resolution as biased, deceptive and damaging.
While the resolution was not expected to have any economic effect on Israel, advocates said it was the moral weight of the measure, addressing one of the world’s most intractable and polarizing conflicts, that was significant.

I imagine that religion-beat professionals everywhere spewed coffee on their computer screens when reading that lede, since the UCC is actually one of the smallest denominations in American life, even among the old-guard religious left.

Here is the key slice of a typical list, care of the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian churches:

19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. 1,308,054, [ranked 19 in 2011] , down 0.19 percent.
20. Jehovah’s Witnesses 1,184,249, [ranked 20 in 2011] , up 1.85 percent.
21. Church of God ( Cleveland , Tennessee ) 1,074,047, [ranked 22 in 2011] , down 0.21 percent.
22. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ 1,071,616, [ranked 23 in 2011] , no update reported.
23. Seventh-day Adventist Church 1,060,386, [ranked 24 in 2011] , up 1.61 percent.
24. United Church of Christ 1,058,423, [ranked 21 in 2011], down 2.02 percent.
25. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000, [ranked 25 in 2011 ], no update reported.

A second resolution on a related issue failed, one that would have made the UCC the first American church to "officially describe Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians as apartheid."

It is also important to note that this was the second time that the UCC has passed this kind of economic resolution, only with stronger language this time. Was this action really a surprise and, thus, a hook for such a large news report?

One could argue that the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement -- see Ira's recent Global Wire piece on this -- is a strong hook.

So, small church votes, for the second time, on a resolution that is consistent with it's past history. Is this a really, really big story? Apparently, it is at The New York Times, where the United Church of Christ is a really, really big denomination.

So, readers, correction or no correction in this case?

UPDATE: Ira Rifkin just sent me an email noting that The Guardian -- hello aggregation era -- just picked up this story from The New York Times and repeated the same obvious error in its lede.

The international movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians has received backing from one of the largest Protestant churches in the US, as two other major denominations prepare to vote on whether or not to divest money from the Jewish state.
The United Church of Christ’s general assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of divesting funds at its synod in Cleveland. Further votes by the Episcopal Church and the Mennonite Church USA were expected on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Amazing. #LOL #Correction

Please respect our Commenting Policy