How did the Butler do it?

butler In the 1963 film “The Great Escape,” it’s obvious how the Allied prisoners escaped from a German prisoner camp: they built an underground tunnel. In a Washington Post story of the same name, it’s not at all clear how as a teenager NBA All-Star Caron Butler escaped from his drug-infested neighborhood.

Butler’s explanation is theological. He believes that God turned around his life:

“The graveyards and prisons are full of people that wanted a second chance,” Butler said. “God put his hands on my life. He said ‘I’m going to touch you so that you can touch others.’ “

Later in the story, Butler explains the inspiration behind his transformation. While in juvenile prison, he read scripture:

Butler decided that he’d never be in that position again. He read Bible verses his grandmother, Margaret Butler, had sent him. Butler said he was drawn mostly to 1 Corinthians 13:11, which reads, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

One small window, sandwiched between steel bars, lit his room. Butler could peer out and see a basketball court.

“God puts stuff in front of you for a reason,” he said. “That was my ticket out.”

By contrast, Post reporter Michael Lee’s explanation is material. He believes that a cop caught Butler a lucky break. Police officer Michael Geller could have arrested Butler for “constructive possession” of drugs. Instead of putting him in the back of the police car, Geller let him go.

greatescapeGeller’s decision saved Butler, or at least his basketball career.

A very pragmatic man, Geller said he prides himself on a meticulous approach to his job. He believes police work is much easier when you treat people correctly. “I’m not saying that Caron might not have been involved in something at that point, but in my gut, I was pretty confident the dope wasn’t his. I had done my homework.”

Geller’s supervisor told him that he had enough for an arrest, but left the final decision up to Geller.

“If this had been a situation where I knew going in that Caron was the guy selling the dope — that he was the responsible party — I’m not going to lie to you, he would’ve been escorted out of that house,” Geller said.

He decided to let Butler go.

“I thought it was the right thing to do — to see him go on the right path,” Geller said.

But Geller and his supervisor left Butler with a warning. “They told me, ‘If you get in trouble again, anything to do with narcotics again, you’re taking this case, too,’ ” Butler recalled. “I was like, ‘You don’t have to worry about that.’ ”

Like most of the Post‘s in-depth stories, Lee’s story was well reported and character driven.

But the contrast between Butler’s and Lee’s explanations is jarring. When I first read the story, I concluded that Geller had saved Butler’s career (and maybe his life). But after I read the story again and considered Butler’s explanation, I wasn’t so sure.

Lee’s failure to address this contradiction leaves careful readers in the lurch. At minimum, Lee should have squared his explanation with Butler’s. Does Butler view Geller as an instrument of God’s handiwork? Does Geller think he was just doing his job or seeking to do the Lord’s work?

Butler deserves his selection this year as an all star. Whenever he has made a big shot, Wizards fans or announcers will say, “The Butler did it!” After reading Lee’s story, I wonder how he did.

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God and gridiron beat (again)

david tyree catchAnybody remember the post-Super Bowl interview with New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree? That was the man who, just after making that amazing catch with his helmet and hands allowing the Giants to win the Super Bowl, thanked God on national television just for the chance to be out there.

Some skeptics doubt whether God really has an impact on the football field. Others have expressed frustration and disdain for athletes who insert God into the conversation after an athletic event.

But in Tyree’s case, it’s hard to deny that the reason Tyree is out there is because he found a supernatural savior. The New York Times profiles Tyree’s life story and does not shy away from the God talk. In fact, the reporters Greg Bishop and Pete Thamel embrace it:

“What looked to be the lowest point in my life ended up being the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Tyree, speaking of his arrest in 2004, said Saturday morning while sitting at his kitchen table.

From special-teams demon to Super Bowl deity. From moonlighting drug dealer to born-again Christian. From a child who drank alcohol and smoked marijuana with his family to a sober father and husband who started his own nonprofit organization.

Who remembers Sports Illustrated senior writer Peter King quoted in Christianity Today saying that he “tires of players bringing up their faith after a” football game?

“To be honest with you, people like me just totally ignore that, because we’re not writing about religion,” King said. “We’re not writing about somebody’s Christianity. Once the questions veer off into game-oriented things, that’s when I start taking notes.”

Question for King and for others who like to ignore statements about God from athletes: would you listen to Tyree talk about how God is the reason for him making a game-winning catch in the Super Bowl? Would you try to argue with him and say that God did not have an impact on his life? I doubt it. More from the NYT:

The morning Tyree left jail, in March 2004, his estranged girlfriend, Leilah, sent him a text message. It read, “I’m with child.” She was pregnant with their second son. He promised to visit her in Syracuse and went home and downed a bottle of Remy Martin cognac. During the visit that month, Leilah presented Tyree with an ultimatum — her lifestyle or his.

Tyree promised change, just as he had promised before. He glimpsed a Bible on her bed, and when he picked it up and started reading from the book of Genesis, for the first time, the words on the page made sense. He went home and “called every woman and told them, ‘Things are about to change.’ ” Tyree said he never drank again.

Then one day, for no reason in particular, Tyree went to the Bethel Church of Love and Praise in Bloomfield, N.J. He sat in the back, about a month after the arrest.

A woman started singing before the congregation, her voice, loud and passionate, filling the room. As Tyree listened, he felt her joy and realized he had none. He lowered his head into his hands and started crying, first sniffles, then sobs lasting 25 minutes.

“I’m a successful player in the N.F.L., having what most people would desire for their lives,” Tyree said. “I’m at the pinnacle of sports. But I had no joy. I had no peace. My life was obviously in disarray.”

My only fuss with the NYT piece is that it failed to delve into what Tyree means by finding God. What did Tyree’s mother mean when “she said she found God” and in her final words before dying “I’m liberated”? Is it inappropriate for a reporter, or even a sports reporter, to ask Tyree what he meant when he told his mother that she needed “to find Jesus. You’re going to hell”?

The NYT reporters leave a lot open for the reader to interpret, which is probably appropriate in this situation. But follow-up questions on theological statements shouldn’t be considered inappropriate for reporters. Getting to the heart of what athletes mean when they credit God and thank God for their success could potentially encourage those who don’t mean what they say to quiet down and give those who do mean what they say a chance to further inform those listening and reading.

With that all said, did anyone read The Washington Post‘s massive 3,100-plus word story on the late NFL superstar Sean Taylor? Not that there has been an absence of God-talk in the tragic murder of the Washington Redskins safety, but could that aspect of Taylor’s life been mentioned at least once in this rather personal piece on Taylor and his family life?

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Big churches, big screens, big game

FBC Pic1385x258I wish I knew where I heard the statistic claiming that 85 percent of the growing churches in America have added large-screen video technology to their worship centers (the large rooms that once were called “sanctuaries”). As a religion columnist, I receive so many letters and emails making so many claims and it’s hard to keep track of it all.

So handle that with a grain of salt. However, if you click around a bit in this Google search, you will get a sense of what’s happening out there.

I bring this up because large-screen video systems in churches are at the heart of the IT story this year as the hours tick down to that football game today. Here is a typical lede from Alexandra Alter at the Wall Street Journal:

One unlikely match-up Sunday pits two powerhouse opponents against each other: the National Football League and the Christian church.

On one side are church-sponsored Super Bowl parties with big-screen TVs, soft drinks and some soul-saving talk at halftime. On the other are NFL lawyers threatening to crack down on unauthorized use of the game. The league, which owns both the Super Bowl name and the broadcast, has restrictions that limit TV screens to 55 inches at public viewings, except at venues like bars and restaurants that regularly broadcast sporting events. Airing the game at events that promote a message, including a religious message, is forbidden.

All of the elements are in there, including a major mistake.

This is not a showdown between the NFL and the whole church or all kinds of churches. It’s a battle between the NFL and those large, growing churches that can turn almost any kind of social event or trend into a form of evangelism and outreach. And evangelism tends to happen in evangelistic churches, which usually means evangelical churches. I doubt there will be many fellowship halls in oldline, liberal Protestant churches full of crowds — older baby boomers and up — watching football today.

Hey, here’s a news angle. Since many liberal mainline churches serve alcohol, could an Episcopal parish legally host a giant-screen Super Bowl party under a kind of “wherever you find four Episcopalians you will always find a fifth” clause?

No, me thinks that this NFL vs. the pews story is not about “churches” in general. This is about those conservative “megachurches” with all of that high-end video equipment in those large auditoriums that look like movie theaters. That means that if people — think politicians — try to “solve” this problem it will quickly turn into a left vs. right thing.

The only hope (I am smiling as I type that) is that North Carolina Democratic congressman Heath Shuler — a former NFL quarterback — continues to carry the ball on this issue. Then again, he is a pro-life Democrat who is popular in evangelical churches, so you may end up with a culture war dynamic no matter what.

large Bar SPORTSYou think I am kidding? Check out this section of the Washington Post report on the topic.

The league bans public exhibitions of its games on TV sets or screens larger than 55 inches because smaller sets limit the audience size. The section of federal copyright law giving the NFL protection over the content of its programming exempts sports bars, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

The issue came to a head last year after the NFL sent a letter to Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis, warning the church not show the Super Bowl on a giant video screen. For years, the church had held a Super Bowl party in its auditorium, attracting about 400 people and showing the game on a big screen usually reserved for hymn lyrics. …

The policy has prompted some drastic downscaling. Last year, Vienna Presbyterian Church planned a party in its fellowship hall for its middle school and high school students, airing the game on its 12-foot video screen. Church leaders had hoped to use the game to draw in the teenagers, often a tough crowd to get through church doors.

“We thought we had found our magic bullet,” said Barb Jones, the church’s director of communication. The event was canceled, however, after the church heard about the Indianapolis case.

Now this is where the plot thickens, a bit. If you hit the website of Vienna Presbyterian Church, you find out that it is part of the mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But the language used at the site is very, very evangelical. It would be interesting to see if there are Super Bowl parties going on today in PCUSA churches on the more liberal side of the denomination. Meanwhile, I would bet the bank that there are more parties of this kind going on in Evangelical Presbyterian and Presbyterian Church in America congregations.

You have to ask: Why is the NFL so worried about football parties in these growing, thriving churches? Why is evangelism more “dangerous” than alcohol? Why are large crowds of people doing what they do in bars, “preying” even, good for advertisers and groups of people praying in churches bad for advertisers? I wonder. Is the alcohol lobby involved in this?

Stay tuned.

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To quote the ESPN star (or not)

touchdown jesusAs you would imagine, I have received a fair amount of email lately about ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson’s profane performance at the Atlantic City, N.J., roast for Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, better known as the “Mike and Mike in the Morning” duo. This story continues to bubble on the back burner.

Some of the comments have been very predictable, with people divided a bit on whether ESPN should fire Jacobson. Here’s a chunk of a report that sums of this angry response:

… Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, Thursday called for picketing and a prayer vigil outside ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. …

“ESPN has to step up to the plate here. Imagine the outrage if Ms. Jacobson said, ‘F–k Mohammed,’ ‘F–k Jews,’ or ‘F–k African-Americans.’

“We’re simply asking that the parent company of ESPN, ABC, treat this incident the same way they did when Isaiah Washington publicly used the word ‘fag’ when referring to a cast member,” Mahoney said. “Although the faith community can forgive and extend mercy to Ms. Jacobson, she still must assume full responsibility and accept the consequences for her hate-filled rhetoric.”

And so forth and so on. This angle of the story did not interest me all that much.

However, I was interested in the fact that it was hard to find a mainstream press report that actually told you much about what happened and, for example, what she actually said. This was the rare story where it was “conservative” to quote the profane facts — of a censored version thereof — and “mainstream” to leave the readers guessing in the dark.

Thus, the Associated Press wrote:

Jacobson’s speech included obscenities aimed at Notre Dame, with Irish football coach Charlie Weis in attendance. An article in The Press of Atlantic City the next day said that Jacobson “made an absolute fool of herself, swilling vodka from a Belvedere bottle, mumbling along and cursing like a sailor as Mike & Mike rested their heads in their hands in embarrassment.” She was booed off the stage.

In a statement released through ESPN, Jacobson called her comments about Notre Dame “foolish and insensitive.”… Jacobson’s speech included obscenities aimed at Notre Dame, with Irish football coach Charlie Weis in attendance.

Meanwhile, people willing to veer over to alternative, conservative news pages could read passages such as this:

Jacobson’s Jan. 11 tirade against Notre Dame football at a sports celebrity banquet reportedly not only included “F*** Notre Dame!” and “F*** Touchdown Jesus!” — but also “F*** Jesus!”

Even Baptist Press issued an editor’s note warning and let readers know what happened, while softening the blow somewhat:

A profanity-laced tirade earned ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson a weeklong suspension from her duties with the sports network.

According to various reports, an intoxicated Jacobson reportedly hurled a string of “F-word” insults aimed at Notre Dame, Touchdown Jesus and Jesus Christ Himself during a Jan. 11 roast in Atlantic City, N.J., for ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic, of the ESPN radio show “Mike and Mike in the Morning.”

So what’s the point? I do think that it’s safe to say that the fallout at ESPN from this event would have been much greater if Jacobson had shot from the lip at another religious group other than a traditional form of Christianity. Some targets are safer than others.

However, the question that is more interesting, for journalists, is whether the story would have received greater play in the mainstream news media if she had aimed at some other group. And would more journalists have quoted the remarks more clearly, to help people realize just how far she went at that podium?

One more question: Does anyone know how the late-night comics handled this?

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Faith on the diamond

josh hamiltonYou really can’t write about major league baseball player Josh Hamilton without focusing on the faith aspect of his story. Even the reporters writing about him admit this in their articles.

Part of the reason is that Hamilton talks about it so much, and the other part is that it is hard to objectively say that faith has not played a significant part of Hamilton’s life. In other words, reporters cannot say that Hamilton is just talking about God because it sounds good. God is genuinely the reason Hamilton is doing batting practice these days and preparing for a summer on the baseball diamond.

Appropriately, a very thorough Dallas Morning News profile of Hamilton is headlined “Faith brings Texas Rangers’ Hamilton back from the brink.” The reporter Evan Grant establishes up front that you can’t ignore the importance faith has played in Hamilton’s life and his efforts to come back to the sport he loves:

Faith. It comes up often in the story of 26-year-old Joshua Holt Hamilton. It’s virtually impossible to tell his story without mentioning his Christian faith. He’d prefer you not even try.

Faith, he regularly testifies, has put him back in baseball after four years of addiction problems so ugly you can’t blame his family for not wanting to relive them. But because of faith, they do — to churches, youth groups and halfway houses.

If Hamilton could shake his habit — it included downing a bottle of Crown Royal almost daily and cocaine and crack cravings so strong he burned through a $3.96 million signing bonus — and finally get to the big leagues last season, there had to be a reason.

Hamilton highlighted the role faith plays in his life when he told his story to ESPN The Magazine‘s Tim Keown earlier last summer. Unlike the DMN profile, Hamilton explicitly states what was attacking him (“the devil”) and what saved him. It is not a generic “faith,” that saved him from his drug addictions. Jesus Christ as his personal “savior” brought Hamilton back from the brink.

Hamilton’s faith has not only saved him personally from his drug habit. From a baseball perspective, the DMN story highlights how faith played a practical role in bringing him back to baseball and now onto the Texas Rangers:

The Rangers spoke to doctors about dealing with addiction. They did some basic research on athletes and addiction. They found, at least on an anecdotal level, athletes who had strong faith-based beliefs were better positioned to stay clean.

UT-Southwestern addiction specialist Dr. Bryon Adinoff concurs.

“If you replace addiction with religion, it’s not an addiction’ it’s something meaningful, socially appropriate and rewarding,” Adinoff says. “It’s typically very healthy behavior.”

To that end, the Rangers wanted first-hand knowledge of how Hamilton expressed his faith. They sent scouts to some of his talks.

“He seemed to be presenting a very consistent message,” Daniels says. “Before he got involved with drugs, everybody who dealt with him thought he was a very high-quality guy. We saw that. I think there are two things that have played a part in why this attempt at fighting addiction has been successful: Family and faith.”

No one is going to question Hamilton’s sincerity when he says faith is what has kept him alive and playing in baseball. Baseball officials seem to believe that Hamilton’s faith is a reason to trust that he will not relapse.

I hope that Hamilton’s story can be an example to other sports reporters of the effect faith can have in an athlete’s life. When an athlete (or coach) cites faith as the reason for their success or abilities, reporters should dig deeper into those statements. As in Hamilton’s life, faith is not just something someone talks about. It is the reason that person is alive.

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Scandal in St. Louis, again

majerus biondi 01I wonder exactly how many reporters the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will use to cover the Rick Majerus story.

The other day, we looked at how religion reporter Tim Townsend added quite a bit of value to the initial reports of Majerus’ unorthodox statements and Archbishop Raymond Burke’s denunciation of same. The latest installment is by one Kavita Kumar. Archbishop Burke, you may remember, said he would leave it to Majerus’ employer — St. Louis University — to determine how Majerus should be punished.

So check out this story which is about how SLU president Lawrence Biondi has remained silent on the issue:

Some faculty members wish Biondi or other campus leaders would speak out forcefully on the issue to make clear that the university respects academic freedom and that other employees should not be fearful about speaking their minds.

But many faculty and student leaders say they are comfortable with the university’s statement through spokesman Jeff Fowler, which said that Majerus was expressing his own opinions and not speaking on behalf of the university. Fowler has not definitively said whether Majerus will be reprimanded.

Are those the only options? Are there any members of the SLU community who think that Majerus should be punished? If there are, their views should be mentioned. If there aren’t, the reader should be informed of that.

Majerus, for what it’s worth, told the Post-Dispatch that he doesn’t regret his views in support of abortion rights and embryonic-destroying stem cell research. Further, he said he doesn’t expect to be punished by SLU.

Here’s a representative quote from someone at the school:

Harold Bush, an English professor and president of the faculty council for the College of Arts and Sciences, acknowledged that the university has a good track record in upholding freedom of expression and ideas.

“But I think some of the faculty is a little nervous about the fact that (SLU officials) have not come out in support of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” he said. “I think they might want to consider going a bit farther, saying this is what universities do, this is what we represent. We represent critical thinking and academic freedom.”

I personally think Burke could have handled this whole kerfuffle better but I love how we’re talking about academic freedom with regard to a basketball coach. I mean, that’s not even a real sport (or so I try to convince my husband). I went to a public university and I’m pretty sure it was not that different from most schools in being about the last place you would look for freedom of expression. Speech codes, anyone? But that’s another matter. I think it’s the job of the reporter to clarify the different issues at play here. Academic freedom is different from what Burke is talking about. Burke is talking about the theological issue of scandal, something that Townsend has reported on in the past.

Kumar goes on to say that some faculty are worried about bringing up homosexuality in the classroom while others say that’s ridiculous, pointing to the university’s repeated sponsorship of The Vagina Monologues. The article also quotes Biondi in a 2006 saying any university-level censorship is bad. I’ve noticed previous articles quoting people as saying that “free speech” should triumph in the Majerus case.

The assumption is that Majerus is a prime example, as quoted in Associated Press reporter Christopher Leonard’s story:

“These beliefs are ingrained in me,” Majerus told the paper. “And my First Amendment right to free speech supersedes anything that the archbishop would order me to do. My dad fought on Okinawa in World War II. My uncle died in World War II. I had classmates die in Vietnam. And it was to preserve our way of life, so people like me could have an opinion.”

That’s all fine and good but it seems there is a great deal of public confusion about what freedom of speech means, legally speaking, and it’s become a pet peeve of mine.

The First Amendment protects speech, certainly, but it applies to government restriction of speech rather than private employer restriction of free speech. Unless government authorities tell you that you can’t publicly support embryonic-destroying stem cell research, it’s not a free speech issue. Burke didn’t say that Majerus should be prohibited by the federal government from endorsing the destruction of embryos — he said that the comments were not Catholic and that representatives of Catholic universities should not say such things. Even the federal government can restrict the speech of its own employees, according to the Supreme Court.

Many of the Majerus articles focus on who has control over the university. Taking that issue and even Burke out of it, I think it would be interesting to see an article explore whether the university feels it has any obligation to condemn Majerus’ views in support of abortion rights and embryonic-destroying stem cell research. Or, put another way, if Biondi disagrees with Burke’s notion of scandal, what are his views of scandal and how the church should handle false teaching in its midst?

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Muslim athletes and their clothing

female muslim runnerFor being on page A1 in The Washington Post, the article earlier this week on a high school athlete disqualified from a track meet for wearing clothing intended to be modest for religious reasons is missing a few things. Fortunately, we have the Internet, and the captions on the online photo gallery fill in a few details that were lacking from the story.

The reporter is fairly sympathetic toward the talented athlete, and it is hard not to feel for the senior who is hardly gaining any competitive advantages by trying to adhere to the principles of her faith by wearing more clothing:

Juashaunna Kelly, a Theodore Roosevelt High School senior who has the fastest mile and two-mile times of any girls’ runner in the District this winter, was disqualified from Saturday’s Montgomery Invitational indoor track and field meet after officials said her Muslim clothing violated national competition rules.

Kelly was wearing the same uniform she has worn for the past three seasons while running for Theodore Roosevelt’s cross-country and track teams: a custom-made, one-piece blue and orange unitard that covers her head, arms, torso and legs. On top of the unitard, Kelly wore the same orange and blue T-shirt and shorts as her teammates.

The outfit allows her to compete while complying with her Muslim faith, which forbids displaying any skin other than her face and hands.

A friend of mine who has successfully competed in USATF, NCAA, and IHSAA track and field events and has spent time as a high school and college track coach told me that standards such as these for uniforms are necessary to keep “all things equal” on the track. That said, there is certainly no advantage to wearing extra clothing. The fact that she went to such great lengths to have the uniform custom made to conform to her school colors shows that she wasn’t trying to cause any type of scene, or to stand out in any particular way.

Unfortunately, the story relies only on the director of the track meet to explain why Kelly was disqualified. The reporter could have looked to the people who make the rules and not just the person enforcing them. A simple reason that if Kelly is given special treatment, other kids who want to wear cross necklaces and other religious paraphernalia would expect similar treatment. The question that should be asked then is whether or not an exception to this rule should be created for athletes with religious objections such as Kelly.

Religious beliefs and sports have made for great stories that are worth careful exploration. Anybody remember the movie Chariots of Fire?

Not only does Kelly wear this special uniform, she does not eat or drink during the five-hour long track meets during the month of Ramadan, while those she competes against are able to eat what they need to keep their energy up for 3-plus mile long races. For some reason, the story neglects to mention this, but it comes up in the photo gallery captions:

Cross-country meets can last five hours or more, although the races themselves take approximately 25 minutes or less. To stave off dehydration before and after exhausting five-kilometer (roughly 3.1 miles) races, athletes usually chug water and sports drinks by the liter and devour granola bars, bananas and cookies. For Kelly, that would be a betrayal.

The Post will likely follow up on this story, and hopefully they can dig into whether or not it would be fair to grant Kelly and other athletes like her an exception for their religious beliefs and practices.

A great reference piece on this topic is this article Women’s Sports Foundation Web site. The article raises a great point by pointing out that not all Muslim female athletes have the same religious standards for what they wear. While fundamentalists condemn successful athletes for wearing shorts in front of men, others compete in the Olympics without wearing the hijab. Speaking of the Olympics, hopefully reporters will pick up on this story this summer because it is bound to be an issue.

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Checkmate! (an update, no correction)

800px CheckmateThe iconoclastic chess genius Bobby Fischer – one of the most unique public figures of the Cold War era — lived a bizarre life that blended astonishing victories with mysterious choices that, to others, looked like intentional failures or lapses of judgment or something. You can read all about that in the New York Times obituary for Fischer, simply by clicking here.

I mean, try this passage on for size:

In 1999, in a series of telephone interviews he gave to a radio station in the Philippines, he rambled angrily and profanely about an international Jewish conspiracy, which he said was bent on destroying him personally and the world generally.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he told a radio talk-show host in Baguio, the Philippines, that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were “wonderful news,” adding he was wishing for a scenario “where the country will be taken over by the military, they’ll close down all the synagogues, arrest all the Jews and secure hundreds of thousands of Jewish ringleaders.”

See what I mean? Now, you might, after reading that, want to ask a question that sounds something like this: “OK, where in heckfire did that guy go to church?”

As it turns out, the obituary by reporter Bruce Weber provides an answer and here it is:

… (Fischer) tithed the Worldwide Church of God, a fringe church he had become involved with beginning in the early 1960′s. The church, now defunct, followed Hebrew dietary laws and Sabbath proscriptions and believed in the imminent return of Jesus Christ. For a time, Mr. Fischer lived in Pasadena, Calif., the church’s home base, or nearby Los Angeles, where he was said to spend his time replaying chess games and reading Nazi literature. There were reports that he was destitute, though the state of Mr. Fischer’s finances was never very clear.

First of all, I think there is a missing word, or even a phrase, in that reference to tithing. Shouldn’t that be that he “tithed to the Worldwide Church of God”? Also, I wonder if the Times should not have said something like, “he tithed one tenth of his income” to, etc. I grew up Southern Baptist and, thus, am very familiar with the concept of tithing and lots of other people know all about that term, as well. But is it the kind of term that a reporter can use with no explanation at all, in a mainstream publication? Just asking.

But there is a more glaring problem in this passage.

The problem is that the Worldwide Church of God still exists — click here.

Now it is certainly true that this unique flock — which critics called a “cult,” not a “fringe church” — has changed a great deal since its infamous days under the leadership of radio preacher Herbert W. Armstrong. It’s pretty easy to find out what happened, with the church evolving closer and closer to the evangelical Protestant mainstream. Google works.

But it’s one thing to say that a church has changed. It is something else to say that it is defunct, especially when it isn’t.

Correction, please. (Tip of the hat to reader Mark A. Kellner

UPDATE: Well, the Times didn’t do a correction, but there has been a quiet edit in the online version. Click here to see that it looks like this now:

At the same time, he tithed to the Worldwide Church of God, a fringe church he had become involved with beginning in the early 1960s. The church followed Hebrew dietary laws and Sabbath proscriptions and believed in the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

And in the latest version of the paragraph, the word “to” has appeared after the word “tithed.” Hurrah. But, hey, what about the status of the church today? Does that matter?

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