Friday, March 23, 2007

Is Truth Dead in Religious Journalism?

Samantha Tillich, Staff Writer

Religion reporters are relying too much on faith rather than rigorous fact-checking to prepare their stories, says a recent report by the Society for Religious Journalism. The Society estimates that one in five published news stories in religious newspapers, magazines and other media contain "serious errors or distortions of facts."

The report, due to be released today at the Society's annual meeting in New York, says the worst offenders are Web-based journals, including those sites often called "blogs." On some sites the authors analyzed, two-thirds of all articles were "completely made up." Traditional print journalism also received harsh criticism. "Many articles in the [periodicals] studied were written by clergy, a class of people notorious for half-truths, propaganda and incomplete research."

Given the sensitive nature of the subject, most people interviewed for this story did not want to be identified. One senior editor at a well-known publication for Christian professionals thought the report set the bar for excellence too high. "We are human," the editor said. "We all make mistakes. How were we to know 'The Book of Todd' isn't in the Bible?"

Burton Mackerel, publisher of The Aldersgate Gazette, defended the work of his staff. "Everyone here knows that we expect the highest level of accuracy. I will not tolerate sloppy work. If even a single error reaches the pages of the Gazette, somebody will get fired."

Mackerel continued, "I am confident of our success in this area. We have a staff of six editors and 12 assistants whose sole job is to triple-check each minute detail of every story."

A quick reading of the AG staff directory revealed that no such fact-checking team exists. True to his word, Mackerel fired his secretary.

The Society for Religious Journalism's annual meeting begins today and runs through next Wednesday. The full report, "Truth Is Dead: Inaccuracy in American Religious Journalism," is available at the Society's website.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Da Vinci and Broadway to Collide This Fall

Gerald Calvin, Staff Writer

Controversial author Dan Brown is collaborating with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber to produce what could be the most lucrative Broadway production ever. Brown's publicist released a statement yesterday announcing that Brown and Webber would follow the author's best-selling book The Da Vinci Code and feature film of the same name with a new project, Da Vinci Code: The Musical.

"What Cats did for cat love affairs," the statement reads, "Da Vinci Code: The Musical will do for the love affair between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Mr. Brown and Mr. Webber will set a new standard for Broadway shows of the future."

Several stars have already signed on to play leading roles. Celine Dion has agreed to play heroine Sophie Neveu; Ric Ocasec, lead singer of the rock group The Cars, will play hero Robert Langdon; and fitness guru Richard Simmons will fill the role of the self-flagellating albino hit man monk Silas.

"I am so excited about this!" bubbled Simmons as he was entering a studio for a taping of his newest project, Sweating to the Gnostics. "I have always wanted to do Broadway! I just love Celine!" Simmons kissed the interviewer and then danced into the studio.

Brown and Webber have already begun work on the score. Brown has provided the inspiration for the unique lyrics, and Webber will fill in the music. The press release listed several of the songs to be featured: "Paris Nights," "Look at Me, I'm Sophie Neveu," "Shakin' at the Louvre Hop," "Art School Dropout," and "We Fit Together."

Like the book and movie before it, controversy is dogging Da Vinci Code: The Musical even though rehearsals have not yet begun. Critics and Bible scholars alike are vigorously protesting, saying that neither Jesus Christ Superstar nor the Gospels give any indication that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene or that the pair had a child together.

"Brown's newest fiasco will confuse people of faith and nonbelievers alike," said Bible scholar Roger Ebert. "He completely ignores the incontrovertible evidence that Jesus had an adulterous affair and a child with Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza."

Broadway critic Walter Bruggemann was skeptical that Brown had the experience to tackle a stage musical. "It is not easy for an author, even a successful one, to make the transition to Broadway. Dan should probably stick to the things he knows best, biblical scholarship and art history."

Audience members can weigh the evidence for themselves this Fall when Da Vinci Code: The Musical opens at the Ambassador Theater on 49th Street.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Baptist Cat Inspires Church

James Choate-Munitz

Members of Solid Rock Baptist Church in Short Pump, Virginia filed into the meeting hall expecting to approve a hometown boy for ordination. As they left several hours later, however, many members marveled over the fact that they had ordained a cat instead of the original candidate.

By the end of the next day, church pastor Robert Robertson had found no passage of scripture or church doctrine that explicitly forbade a church from ordaining a cat or any other pet. Robertson confirmed that at the evening service on Easter Sunday, Lowell, the 9-pound housecat owned by Solid Rock member Rick Hoover, will become the first known cat to be ordained by a Baptist church in the United States. Lutheran and Pentecostal churches have ordained cats on two previous occasions, both times in the mid-1960s.

The previous evening, 20-year-old Stephen Colton had arrived at Short Pump’s oldest Baptist church hoping to receive approval for his ordination. As church members were discussing the merits of Colton’s gifts and graces, Rick Hoover stood to speak. Hoover had been Colton’s 10th grade math teacher.

Hoover said, “I like Stephen as much as anyone in here, but I was his teacher. I mean no disrespect, but Stephen just isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. In fact, my cat’s probably smarter than Stephen.”

Mary Louise Gorfunkle, Hoover’s next door neighbor, agreed. “Lowell is pretty smart. He’s cute, too.”

Soon, other members of the congregation began to tell stories about Lowell, winner of Short Pump’s Cutest Cat competition in 2004 and 2006. At first, the tales seemed nothing more than typical stories, such as the cat rushing to the kitchen door when he heard the sound of his supper dish, or the adorable way he would leave decapitated rats on a neighbor’s front steps.

Soon, though, the real truth came out. Sylvia Grindel once heard Lowell meow the Lord’s Prayer. Art Samerson watched the cat prevent Samerson’s two-year-old son from walking into the street. Several parishioners claimed to have seen Lowell preaching God’s Word to stray dogs.

By the time the smoke had cleared, and after little actual debate, church members had approved Lowell for ordination. Unfortunately, for the eager Colton, no time was left for the body to take up the question of his ordination. Colton could not be reached for comment, but it is widely rumored that he flew to Brazil to become a missionary.

For now, residents of Short Pump are anticipating Lowell’s first sermon. He will preach at his Easter Sunday ordination service. Lowell’s owner thinks the cat will be ready. “Lowell is still taking all this in,” said Hoover. “This was a huge surprise for him, but if I know my cat, he’ll preach his heart out.”

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