How Britain's Telegraph twisted itself into pretzel over yoga-rejecting Christian parish

Sometimes, I feel as if I'm visiting here from an alternative journalistic universe.

It seems the notion of a Christian church acting like, well, a traditional Christian church is something as foreign to some of us journalist types as this planet would seem if one had just arrived from Mars.

Consider this article from The Daily Telegraph, one of Britain's more conservative newspapers (it once had the nickname of "The Daily Torygraph"). Apparently, some folks in Wales are upset because while part of a local Anglican church will be used as a community center, classes in yoga won't be permitted.

So Pilates, si, yoga, no. Seriously. Residents are not happy with the church council's -- wait for it -- position on this twisted issue. From the Telegraph 's account:

Parishioners have threatened to boycott a church that banned yoga from its premises because it is "non-Christian".

Church bosses said the discipline that originated in ancient India "might be seen to be in conflict with Christian values and belief".

Part of St David's Church, in Ceredigion, Wales, is being converted into a community centre after complaints that the village of Blaenporth lacked facilities. However, some locals were shocked after the Parochial Church Council (PCC) ruled that, while pilates would be allowed in the planned centre, yoga would not be -- along with other "non-Christian activities".

Those who say that yoga is non-Christian often claim to hold the viewpoint because it "teaches participants to focus on oneself, instead of on the one true God".

The first journalistic problem, as careful readers might recognize off the bat, is the use of the word "parishioners" in the first sentence. By the fourth paragraph, we're informed that it is, instead "some locals" who are upset over the yoga ban. Are we talking about active church members or people who simply live inside the borders of some "parish" region?

This is a distinction with a difference. If the church's membership, the parishioners, had risen up against the Parochial Church Council, that would indeed be news. And while it is possible that some members of the congregation wouldn't mind a little "downward dog" after Morning Prayer, there is absolutely nothing in the rest of the article to support that contention.

News reporting rule number one: Don't write something in the lede that isn't supported by the rest of the story.

I can more easily accept the notion that community residents aren't happy with the restriction. If the church is turning over part of its building for general use, they might well feel that yoga classes are none of the church council's business. Then again, those residents might well be wrong if the church allows the use so long as church rules apply.

A denominational official was unambiguous, however, about where the church stood:

A Church in Wales spokesman said the PCC is "keen to broaden the use of St David's Church", but it will continue to be a place of Christian worship.
"Therefore, it is felt that activities that might be seen to be in conflict with Christian values and belief would not be appropriate", he added.

Such determination -- in both senses of the word -- was not greeted with joy by one local, who complained via letter to the town council:

"I and no doubt some Blaenporth residents are not at all happy with the view the church has on community activities like yoga, tai chi, taekwondo, cash prize bingo and the like. It is supposed to be a community affair where old and young can enjoy a better quality of life.
"I, for one, will not be dictated to as to what activity events are open to me. Therefore, I will not be visiting this establishment for recreational enjoyment until a fair and non-bias[ed] community centre is built."

The unnamed resident may have expected more options at the new part church/part community center facility, but it appears the church has the final say. The surprise is that neighbors were unaware that a Christian church might want certain activities not to take place within their walls for, you know, doctrinal reasons.

Much like a 2015 Telegraph report on a Bristol, England, Anglican parish that banned yoga classes, the present story is short on religious detail, alleging yoga to be a practice incompatible with Christianity, but not quoting by name a theologian or church leader to explain this. Why talk to people who are wrong?

Which brings us to journalism rule number two: When you quote someone, if at all humanly possible, quote them by name. That's pretty basic, but it's also AWOL here.

Not a single person quoted in the article, not the complaining residents or even the denominational spokesman, is named. Not a one. It's possible that British law might restrict identifying the writers of complaints sent to a town council, but surely the Church in Wales spokesman (or spokeswoman) could identify themselves. Again, this is basic journalism: Who, What, When Where, Why (How). The first of these is "who."

The constraints of modern content creation, er, journalism, are such that whoever cobbled this together for the Telegraph, presumably more concerned about generating clicks than promulgating understanding, did the best they could in constrained circumstances. And maybe the church spokesman didn't want to get hassled at their local Bikram Yoga class.

But it is, perhaps, the most click-worthy stories that deserve the greatest attention in their preparation. Time after time, we GetReligionistas see stories that are so close to doing the job, but for want of a journalistic nail, the whole enterprise is lost.

As orthodox Christian belief is increasingly challenged in a multicultural, even post-Christian, age, it's incumbent upon the press -- and on those Christians who speak to the press -- to provide as much "meat" in a story as possible. Readers want and deserve context that's deeper than your average yoga mat.

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