I'll be upfront about my interest, or perhaps "bias," in the case of Michael Chamberlain, 72, who passed to his rest on Jan. 9 from complications of leukemia.
Chamberlain, an Australian, was a Seventh-day Adventist, as am I.
Knowing a few Australian Adventists, I can attest that the case of Michael and his former wife, Lindy, was a searing moment in the 131-year history of the movement in that country. (Adventism -- founded by some veterans of the Millerite movement -- itself dates back to 1863, when its General Conference was first organized.)
The Chamberlains were a young pastoral couple serving in Australia when they went on a camping trip in 1980 with their children, including a nine-week-old daughter, Azaria. At one point, Azaria vanished from the campsite, with Lindy claiming to have seen a dingo, a wild dog native to Australia, in the vicinity. Azaria's body was never found.
Almost immediately, public suspicion fell on the Chamberlains: No one else heard or saw an animal in the area when the child disappeared. Was baby Azaria's name some sort of cultic reference to a child sacrifice? (It wasn't.) And what about the Chamberlain's religion -- aren't those Adventists a weird sect that does kooky things?
While some may wish to debate the pros and cons of Seventh-day Adventist belief and practice, I can't think of too many rational people who believe that Adventism is a blood-sacrifice-loving cult. But in the heated antipodean media environment of the early 1980s, it was easily possible to lose sight of that.
But 37 years after Azaria's tragic death -- ruled, in 2012, to have indeed been caused by a dingo and without the parents being at fault -- the faith angle of this story is, or should be, widely known. Apparently, however, these crucial details slipped past The New York Times (paywall), which reported on Michael Chamberlain's passing thusly:
It was a mystery that captivated Australia for years, inspired a Meryl Streep movie and tormented a couple for more than three decades.
Now, one of the central figures in the case — in which a dingo, a type of wild dog found in Australia, was found to have killed the couple’s nine-week-old baby girl — has died.
Michael Chamberlain, a former pastor who fought for decades to prove to the world that the animal was responsible for his daughter’s disappearance, died on Monday, his former wife, Lindy Chamberlain, told The Associated Press. He was 72.
The cause was complications of acute leukemia, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The couple’s ordeal began in 1980, when their daughter, Azaria, disappeared from the family tent while on a trip to the Australian outback.
In the better part of 600 words, the Times discusses the case and the circumstances of Michael Chamberlain's life, including his remarriage after Lindy Chamberlain divorced him. Michael earned both a master's and doctorate degrees after the trial, went on to teach in Australia, and was for five years a caretaker for his second wife, Ingrid, who suffered a severe stroke in 2011.
But apart from calling Michael Chamberlain a "pastor" and noting he and Lindy had met "while studying theology at college in Australia" [sic], there's nothing — absolutely nothing — said of Chamberlain's faith or the role it played in the case.
Egregious seems a mild word to discuss this omission. The Chamberlains' prosecution took on a sensationalist turn almost exclusively because of their religion. To omit this -- which the AP and Sydney Morning Herald stories cited above did not -- I believe does further harm to the memory of a child tragically taken and of her late father, whose fight for justice gained international notice.