The breaking news — only 2,000 years old — that Christians and Jews have vastly different views of Jesus made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over the weekend (and was picked up nationally by Religion News Service this week).
To be more specific, the Post-Dispatch featured a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation that seeks to convert Jews.
The newspaper’s main headline immediately cast the effort in a negative light:
Now, according to my online dictionary, incursion implies “a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory.” Perhaps the headline is a major reason that the story upset so many folks in the LCMS. That, and the fact that the piece used phrases such as “targeted for conversion” to describe evangelism efforts by the Lutheran congregation.
The subhead was equally tilted:
Lutheran outreach draws criticism from Jewish groups
Contrast that with RNS’ much more down-the-middle headline, which perhaps sets a different tone:
Lutheran ministry seeks to convert Jews
Now, at major newspapers such as the Post-Dispatch, copy editors — not the person with the byline on the story — typically write the headline. I thought the story itself, written by a Godbeat pro, was actually pretty good. Of course, given my role as a media critic, I do have a few quibbles with the piece. Call it an occupational hazard.
Let’s start at the top:
In a small storefront in Dogtown, a St. Louis neighborhood known for its celebration of the Christian missionary St. Patrick, sits a congregation dedicated to converting Jews.
Congregation Chai v’ Shalom is tiny by most standards, with weekly attendance averaging somewhere between 30 and 40 members. But it has the backing of the 2-million member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
And its mission fits squarely into the Synod’s controversial effort to preach the message that Jesus was the Messiah to Jews, in hope that they will become Christian and gain salvation.
On a recent Sunday morning, a couple dozen gathered at Congregation Chai v’ Shalom, a makeshift space where stars of David, one with a cross placed in the middle, hang prominently on the walls, alongside what looks like a random collection of paintings.
The vast majority of those who attend Chai v’ Shalom are not Jewish, but they are interested in reaching out to Jews. The service itself even caters to Jews, where the Shema, a central Jewish prayer, is recited and much of the lively singing is in Hebrew.
That’s a nice lede, filled with important detail and colorful description.
My quibble is a single word that has become cliche: “controversial.” Would the lede be any less effective without that adjective? Would the writing be any more precise? To me, inserting that term there adds an unnecessary level of editorializing — even without the headline and subhead.
Instead, why not present the facts and let the readers decide if this approach is, in fact, controversial?
Let’s read some more: