church split

Church struggle: Tampa Bay Times settles for tabloid-style coverage

Church struggle: Tampa Bay Times settles for tabloid-style coverage

Ruskin, about 21 miles south of Tampa, is best known for its beaches and resorts -- and, like elsewhere in Florida, for the occasional gator encounter. But when it's the site of a power struggle in a church, it draws coverage from the state's largest newspaper. 

But not necessarily informative coverage -- either for religion or basic journalism. The Tampa Bay Times is apparently there just for the tabloid-vintage fun of watching reverent people squabbling.

Thus far, the Times has devoted at least two articles to the infighting at the church, detailing a lawsuit by the pastor and stunts like changing the locks. But the lack of a seasoned religion writer -- the Times laid off its veteran specialist, Michelle Bearden, in 2014 -- shows in the coverage.

We get a promising lede in these 550 words, even a hint of religious literacy:

RUSKIN — Thou shall not steal, reads the eighth commandment, but Shirley Dail insists she had to take possession of the Ruskin Church of Christ Christian Church to save it.
In the two months since she seized the shrinking church, where she had worshipped off and on the past 16 years, the 80-year-old Dail has brought in a vibrant congregation, she said. 
Now, the people she pushed out are in court fighting to get their space back.
The house of prayer on Second Avenue NW in Ruskin is a house divided, according to a lawsuit filed by the church July 14.

I'm also pleasantly surprised that the Times calls the church "a house divided," although it doesn't attribute Jesus as the source of the phrase. But the story is better on the lawsuit and the "he said, she said" part than on anything touching religion. Or even on following up the "he said, she said."

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Divorce that could happen: Newspapers sift rumors of a brewing United Methodist Church split

Divorce that could happen: Newspapers sift rumors of a brewing United Methodist Church split

Be glad you're not Bishop Bruce Ough this week. The presiding bishop of the United Methodist Church is trying to dissension at the general conference in Portland, Ore., while denying persistent rumors that a UMC committee is already drawing up divorce papers.

Meanwhile, major media are already doing what they do best: ferreting out the possibility that after decades of debate, leaders of the second-largest Protestant denomination may finally part ways over gay marriage and gay ordination.

The Washington Post does a fine, professional job of gathering facts from secondary sources, then reporting its findings in a non-sensational yet riveting way. It even gives the good bishop a chance to spin it his way:

Amid reports that United Methodist leaders are considering dividing over LGBT equality disputes, the denomination’s top bishop on Tuesday asked members to recommit to remaining together, even though he described their community as having a "broken heart" and in the views of many being "out of time."
Bishop Bruce Ough spoke during an unscheduled appearance at the major, once-every-four-years meeting of the global denomination, which is being held in Portland, Ore. Ough, the incoming president of the Council of Bishops, said he was responding to a flood of social media leaks about secret meetings top church leaders were having in the last week about the possibility of separating. The meeting is called a General Conference.

Ough may not want to play up the private meetings; however, he not only acknowledged to the Post that they’ve been held, but that he attended them. The group "reportedly discussed breaking into conservative, moderate and progressive communities," the article says.

The lengthy WaPo article, more than 1,270 words long, notes the rising numbers and influence of Methodists in Asia and Africa -- who confirm the church's current stance against homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching."  I also admire how the paper sought viewpoints of more conservative sources like Good News and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Mark Tooley of the IRD, in fact, says that in a few years, "the whole United States will be a minority and the liberal parts of the United States will be a minority within a minority."

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