THE RELIGION PAGE: ANYTHING BUT TRUTH

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

What does the journalistic genre think makes for a good religious section of the newspaper? Since The Dallas Morning News won an award for their religious section this past year, it seems reasonable to conclude that they might provide a good sampling of what those who pass out such awards deem as religiously newsworthy. We are therefore examining the February 9th edition to see what rates.

"Religion" is given its own section of six pages in The Dallas Morning News, and it is printed each Saturday. One notices, first of all, that the religious editor enjoys highlighting musical events. In the very top, right-hand corner, there is a picture of a man dressed in black holding a guitar. No, he is not Johnny Cash. The caption alongside of him (and as tall as the picture) follows:

ARTS & MEDIA
TAKING TIME
Catholic musician John Michael Talbot will spend more than two weeks touring North Texas venues.
Page 6G

The last page of this section is devoted to religion in music, art, books, etc. The story about Mr. Talbot covers about 1/3 of that page. Returning to the front page we see on the left-hand side a column of short notes. The title at the top is Revelations, underlined, under which is the picture of a woman with the caption: "Tommye Young-West will perform at Gospel Fest."

Underneath the top banner is the lead story, which begins with a quotation. Underneath is a picture, nearly half a page. Finally, a little lower is the title of the article: "New vision, new life." [For some reason newspapers have forgotten the basic rule of capitalizing the words of a title. Ordinarily, we do it properly, but here we will acquiesce to their lazier, more casual style.] This lead story continues on (and fills all of) page 3G.

The quotation above the picture reads: "It's experiential. It's not didactic in any way. They don't get a lecture on a grease board." The article is about the "Imagine" program for people who have drug abuse problems. The program takes elements from the American Indian culture to aid those with problems. The props include a ceremonial fire, Indian blankets, and the medicine wheel. "...their leader talks about energy--the good kind. Holding a shell filled with burning sage, he passes by each and tells them to feel the smoke's cleansing power" (1G). He is convinced that this sort of "spirituality" plays a big part in rehabilitating youths. Thus, the feature story in the religion section concerns experiential, emotional, subjective treatment for drugs.

The other feature story on the front page is titled: "A parent-teen relationship can change in 30 days." This book emphasizes the "heart connection" that is often missing between parents and children. This may be the best thing highlighted in the entire religion section, since the book emphasizes communication between family members. It is probably based upon Scriptural principles, but the article does not delve into anything so mundane as Bible teaching.

The remaining portion of page one consists of the other headlines down the left column. After the "Gospel Fest" is a detailed description of the reason for having pancake suppers before Lent. The last one is: "Muslims launch billboard campaign," which notes that Muslims are trying to improve their image in California.

Since we have mentioned the back page of this section already, we turn to it next. There is a column on the right-hand side that runs the length of the page. It contains an Arts Calendar and TV Highlights, the first of which is "The American Muslim Hour." The former category includes announcements of various "spiritual" events, such as the "handball festival" in Farmers Branch, a "gospel play" called The Devil Is a Liar, an "arts exhibit and sale" at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, a murder mystery titled Just Desserts (performed by the Drama Guild of the First United Methodist Church in Richardson), and several concerts, including Bill and Gloria Gaither (who are appearing at Reunion Arena) and Pillar, the "rap-core band that's been compared to Limp Bizkit...." Opening acts for Pillar include Shiloh, X-Nihilo, and Brother Ernie (6G). [Of course, one just knows that these same types of events were going on in Jerusalem; one simply needs to read between the lines in the book of Acts.]

The main part of the page, however, consists of art, music, and book reviews, one of which is My Monastery Is a Minivan (see, the paper's staff can use capital letters in titles if they must). The author of this book

has crafted a series of essays showing how spirituality is embodied by a married woman who also happens to be a spiritual director, a psychotherapist and the mother of four, We get a picture of how holiness and Happy Meals go hand in hand (6G).

One of the music entrees is Light Upon Light, which consists of an "eclectic collection of Muslim music...." Another, titled Obvious, is by a Catholic woman "who writes pop songs of faith...." This page also contains a "Website of the Week," which in this case is for the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico, which offers yoga, spirituality and hiking, and desert pilgrimage. Sounds exciting, huh?

Turning to page 2, one's eyes focus first on the center of the page, in which is a picture that is nearly indistinguishable except for a pair of bare feet. In actuality it is a picture of Doveria, "a dancer with the Dream Harem Belly Dance Troupe." This feature must be aimed at those who are not into "hiking and spirituality."

The main article on this page is titled: "An open Bible as sex manual." The column down the left side of the page contains short news articles: "Local mosque to hold open house for hajj" heads the list. The next one is about a 125th church anniversary, followed by "Local Muslims to discuss Islamic faith, traditions" and "Tel Aviv historian to be scholar-in-residence."

Page 4 consists mostly of advertisements for worship services; one new article appears: "Let's press Russia, others on religious freedom issues." Page 5 lists more advertisements for worship services; "Wednesday's ashes are full of mystery" is the primary article. Then comes about one-quarter of a page where often appear letters from the readers, but apparently none of the readers had anything to say this week, since it just contains four more news items. One informs us that Anglicans are counting more worshippers, which oddly enough does not mean that more people are attending--they have just improved their counting procedures. Another one states: "U.S. Orthodox bishops condemn human cloning." Another of these items will be examined on page 3.

What the Reader Fails To Find

In all of the six pages of this section of The Dallas Morning News the reader finds only one Scripture quoted. How is it possible that, in a country founded upon Christian principles, the "Religion" section of a major newspaper--an awarding-winning one, at that--has next to nothing to do with the Scriptures? There is not one Bible study--even a brief one--in which at least some Biblical Truth might be taught. There must be at least one individual in all the metroplex who could write a column which would discuss a few verses a week from the New Testament. In fact, it would not hurt to have two or three such articles. (Some of us have written weekly columns for several years.)

Second, it is obvious that the overriding philosophy is that "all religions are equal." In fact, with all of the emphasis upon the Muslims, the "spiritual" defined however one wants to define it, the Catholics, the Baha'is, and modernists like Bishop Spong, one concludes that there is actually an anti-Christian bias.

Does the average person really cheer when homosexuals are ordained to the ministry? Do they say, "I can't wait to attend the church where the homosexual preaches"? Do we really need to know about the spiritual performance of belly dancers? Some have already tried justifying peyote as part of a religious experience; when can we expect to see a story in which some church group passes out the drug Ecstasy to heighten spiritual experience (who needs didactic grease boards?)? The kicker on this hypothetical article is that the ACLU will file a suit against any government body trying to prosecute these people on the basis of separation of church and state.

Does anyone on the "Religion" staff at The Dallas Morning News (or the august body of individuals who passes out awards) believe that the Bible is the Divinely inspired Word of God? Do any of them believe that Truth is objective and attainable? Can even one distinguish between Truth and error? Does even one person there care? If so, it is well-hidden.

"METHODIST PANEL FAVORS WEEKLY COMMUNION"

This news item from the February 9th "Religion" section of The Dallas Morning News is both humorous and sad at the same time. It begins:

A four-year study on Holy Communion is likely to recommend that United Methodists churches celebrate the sacrament weekly to help move the church toward a "richer" sacramental life" (5G).

Well, there goes their argument that a weekly observance makes it too common--an excuse we have heard for years from these folks. Now they too are willing to risk cheapening the Lord's Supper.

But just imagine it taking four years to reach the astounding conclusion that the New Testament teaches a weekly observance of the Lord's death. They could have read the entire New Testament through several times and the pertinent passages thousands of times during the course of these 1,461 days.

Of course, sacrament is the wrong word to use when referring to the Lord's Supper. It is a word first applied by the Catholic Church and then borrowed by Protestants. Perhaps an additional two years would be sufficient for the panel to discover that the Bible does not mention any sacraments ("church ordinances"). According to the news item, this final report will not be given until the year 2004 (the 20-member panel having been commissioned two years ago).

When the final report is made, this recommendation will be optional; each congregation will be free to decide what they want to do (a little autonomy can be a dangerous thing). The panel will also decide "who is authorized to preside over communion...." Really? Who presided in the New Testament? Jesus did, as He showed the disciples what was to be done. When one reads 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 not one particular person is said to preside--let alone teach qualifications. When the Methodists figure this one out, they will need to rely on their imaginations rather than the Scriptures.

The panel will also determine "which elements are most appropriate." Say what? We know that the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine are specified in the Bible (Matt. 26:26-30). How could there be any question? What else would even be in the running?

Two more questions remain, which are not unrelated. The first involves "how to dispose of leftover elements"; the second is "the thorny theological question of Jesus' 'real presence.'" Neither of these problems is difficult; the bread and fruit of the vine are representations of Jesus (His body and His blood)--not Jesus Himself. They may be discarded, as anything else would be.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "THE RELIGION PAGE: ANYTHING BUT TRUTH (02/24/02)."


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