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: