One of the first things that your GetReligionistas do when preparing a post in our WordPress software is to head over to the “Categories” function box and click all of the relevant choices for how we want this item stored in our archives. It’s a far from perfect process that keeps raising questions. For example, “Are Pentecostals really evangelicals?” Or how about, “OK, I know that Jordan is in the Middle East. But how about Iraq and Iran? How close is close enough? Do I really need to create ANOTHER new category?”
In the world of Christianity, there are some groups that are large enough to get their own box, so to speak. With the Divine Ms. M.Z. Hemingway on board here at GetReligion, it is only a matter of time until the spiritual sons and daughters of Martin Luther get the nod.
But what about the following story from The New York Times? How does one do the categories on this one, when this tragic report includes all kinds of gory details, but never gets around to telling us one very crucial fact. Here’s the top of the report from Baghdad:
Iraqi antiterrorist forces stormed a church where gunmen had taken close to 100 hostages on Sunday in an afternoon of chaos that became a bloodbath. At least 30 hostages and 7 security officers were killed, and 41 hostages and 15 security force members were wounded, according to a source at the Ministry of the Interior.
OK, I know. That’s just the lede. Reporters often need to move the specifics a bit lower. For example, it took a few lines to get to the presumed identity of the attackers, which was the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant network connected to Al Qaeda.
Then there are plenty of specifics in this passage, just a few paragraphs later.
Hussain Nahidh, a police officer who saw the interior of the church, said: “It’s a horrible scene. More than 50 people were killed. The suicide vests were filled with ball bearings to kill as many people as possible. You can see human flesh everywhere. Flesh was stuck to the top roof of the hall. Many people went to the hospitals without legs and hands.”
The violence began shortly after 5 p.m. on Sunday. The gunmen first attacked the Baghdad stock exchange in the Karada neighborhood, killing two security guards and wounding four others, setting off two bombs and then taking refuge in the nearby Sayidat al-Nejat church. The church — one of six bombed in August 2004 — was filled for Sunday services. A local television channel, Baghdadiya, reported receiving a telephone call from someone claiming to be one of the attackers and demanding the release of all members of Al Qaeda imprisoned in Arab countries.
Now we know the name of the church — sort of.
But what kind of church is it? Protestant? Evangelical? Anglican? Orthodox? What kind of Orthodox, since the Middle East is a very complex place and its churches (along with other religious minority groups) are living under great persecution. Catholic? What kind of Catholic church is it? Etc., etc., etc. Of course, it is possible for a concerned reader to break away from the news report and do an online search for “Sayidat al-Nejat.” Then again, reporters and editors can do that, too.
Readers that make the effort to do that will learn something that is never addressed in the Times report — the fact that we are talking about the actual cathedral of the Syrian Catholic Church. At this point, I would like to know if the bishop was present.
The church, with a huge cross visible from hundreds of yards away, was already surrounded with concrete bollards and razor wire, and church leaders have been fearful of attack since the Rev. Terry Jones in Gainesville, Fla., threatened to burn a Koran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Mr. Jones decided not to burn the Koran.
The Washington Post report on the attack is a little bit better. This time, readers are told:
Thirty Iraqi Christians were killed Sunday night during a dramatic siege of a church in Baghdad in which suicide bombers detonated explosives when Iraqi commandos stormed in, authorities said.
At least seven Iraqi security forces were killed during the operation to rescue 120 parishioners who were held hostage for hours at Our Lady of Salvation church in the upscale Karradah neighborhood, an Iraqi police official said. … Eight women and five children were among the dead, Iraqi authorities said. Nearly 60 people were wounded in the exchange of gunfire and the blasts inside the church, officials said. The U.S. military called the takeover a success.
So now we know the name of the church — in English, this time. However, once again there is no way to know what kind of church was bombed, although this detail is provided:
Sunday Mass was being held inside the Assyrian Christian church when the gunmen, reportedly wearing explosive vests, ran inside.
That’s getting close, but, as mentioned before, does little to narrow the field. Is it that hard for reporters to simply give the name of one of the city’s major churches? Did the reporters know that this attack was on a cathedral? And, yes, what about the bishop?