Titanic +100: Any ghosts in this story?

First things first: Let me admit, right up front, that I thought the movie “Titanic” by James Cameron was both ridiculous and, in terms of the history of the event, genuinely tragic. Yes, I wrote that (to some) infamous column for Scripps Howard that, among other things, included this:

For millions, the Titanic is now a triumphant story of how one upper-crust girl found salvation — body and soul — through sweaty sex, modern art, self-esteem lingo and social rebellion. “Titanic” is a passion play celebrating the moral values of the 1960s as sacraments. Rose sums it up by saying that she could abandon her old life and family because her forbidden lover “saved me in every way that a person can be saved.” …

Father Patrick Henry Reardon, a philosophy professor and Orthodox priest, … calls the movie “satanic.” The people who built the Titanic were so proud of their command of technology that they boasted that God couldn’t sink their ship. Today, the creators of the movie “Titanic” substitute romantic love as the highest power. Jack becomes Rose’s savior and he does more than save her life.

“Had that been all that happened, I would not have complained,” said Reardon. “But they made that Christ symbol into a very attractive anti-Christ. The line that set me off I believe also to have been the defining line of the film: the assertion that the sort of saving that Jack did was, ultimately, the only kind of saving possible. If that was the thesis statement of the film, then I start looking for the cloven hoof and sniffing for brimstone.”

So, it was good to get that out of the way.

However, something happened while I was researching that column that changed how I actually viewed the sinking of the Titanic as an event, as opposed to the mega-hit movie. I started reading the sermons that were preached on the Sunday after the liner sank and, well, they were revelatory, in terms of telling us how many people (on the left and right) interpreted the event at that point in history. Check out this sermon by a young Lutheran named, yes, Pastor Karl Barth.

Thus, I returned to those sermons in my Scripps Howard piece this past weekend, which was built on real quotes from real sermons after the real event. Here’s the thesis statement:

The moral messages captured in these sermons were completely different than the vision offered in 1997 by Hollywood director James Cameron. His “Titanic” blockbuster portrayed the doomed ship as a symbol of the corrupt values of an old-fashioned culture that would soon be conquered by science, social change and the sexual revolution.

For the preachers of 1912, the Titanic was the ultimate symbol, not of the past, but of modernity and the dawn of a century in which ambitious tycoons and scientists would solve most, if not all, of humanity’s thorniest problems. The liner was, in other words, a triumph of Darwinian logic and the march of progress. It’s sinking was a dream-shattering tragedy of biblical proportions.

In other words, Cameron’s movie — for millions of people — turned the event upside down or inside out, or something like that.

Now, it is not for me to require other scribes to agree with my interpretation of that side of this event. No way. My point is that the whole White Star advertisement that the boat was designed to be unsinkable, which was reported by survivors to have been turned into the famous “God Himself could not sink this ship” boast, gave this tragedy a, well, theological dimension that resulted in sermon after sermon after sermon.

Thus, there was a potential for some serious religion-news content in the news stories about the 100-year anniversary.

Help me out here: Did anyone see strong religious content in these stories?

The basic Associated Press story, as featured in USA Today, managed to focus on memorial services of various kinds without managing to report any of the specifics of what was said.

Alas, here’s a sample:

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the Titanic was built, a memorial monument was unveiled Sunday at a ceremony attended by local dignitaries, relatives of the dead and explorer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreck of the Titanic on the ocean floor in 1985.

A brass band played as the granite plinth bearing bronze plaques was uncovered beside Belfast City Hall. Officials say it is the first Titanic memorial to list all victims alphabetically, with no distinction between passengers and crew members, or between first-, second- and third-class travelers.

“We remember all those who perished and whose names are herein inscribed — men, women and children who loved and we loved, their loss still poignantly felt by their descendants,” the Rev. Ian Gilpin told the crowd.

After a minute’s silence, a choir sang Nearer My God To Thee — the hymn Titanic’s band is reported to have played as the ship went down.

In another case, the anniversary led to the creation of an actual piece of religious art.

So what content, from this memorial, made it into the AP report? Nothing that I could find. In fact, it’s not even clear whether the lines quoted in that passage from the story are from the concert piece or simply from an interview with one of its creators.

Personally, whenever I write about a piece of music that’s linked to an event or a specific person, I always strive to quote lyrics. Why? Well, isn’t that part of the content of the real event?

On Saturday, thousands attended a memorial concert in Belfast featuring performances by Bryan Ferry and soul singer Joss Stone. At St. Anne’s Cathedral in the city, a performance of composer Philip Hammond’s The Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic was followed by a torch-lit procession to the Titanic memorial garden in the grounds of city hall.

The requiem — performed by male choristers dressed as ship’s crew and female performers in black — also included words by Belfast novelist Glenn Patterson, who imagined the victims reflecting on all they had missed in the last 100 years.

“We passed instead into myth, launched a library full of books, enough film to cross the Atlantic three times over, more conspiracy theories than Kennedy, 97 million web pages, a tourist industry, a requiem or two,” Patterson said. “We will live longer than every one of you.”

So what we have here is a story about memorial rites or various kinds, including a requiem. The event centers on deaths of scores of innocent people who died because technocrats and tycoons felt their great ship was above natural disasters or even acts of God. What made it into this particular AP story? Ghosts, that’s what.

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Ghost in the Brendan voyage

Let me admit something right up front.

This lengthy Washington Post sports feature about Matt Rutherford’s amazing attempt to sail — solo, in a small boat — all the way around North and South America had me locked up the minute I read that he had named his boat the Saint Brendan.

This legendary Irish missionary is my patron saint, you see. I do most of my GetReligion.org work under the watchful gaze of an icon of St. Brendan, which hangs just to the right of my keyboard.

The stunning nature of Rutherford’s quest (see solotheamericas.org) is almost impossible to describe, but here is a fact paragraph that takes it on.

It is difficult to convey fully the audacity of what Rutherford is attempting to do: sailing some 25,000 miles, through some of the Earth’s most treacherous ocean, on a 36-year-old Albin Vega boat (which he christened the Saint Brendan, in honor of a sixth-century explorer) best suited to weekend sailors who never venture beyond Tilghman Island on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake. Already, the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, England, has recognized him as the first person in recorded history to make it through the fabled Northwest Passage alone and non-stop on such a small sailboat.

I kept thinking of two logical questions as I read this piece: (1) Why in the world is he risking his life to do this? And (2) does it have anything to do with the name of his boat?

When I reached the end of the story, that second question remained unanswered.

The first question — the “why” in the who, what, when, where, why and how equation — was answered. Sort of. The subject was touched, briefly, then released like a sizzling frying pan. And, yes, it appears that the “why” in this story has something to do with religion. Consider it a classic ghost in an otherwise fine news feature.

Here is the heart of it all:

What, then, would compel a 30-year-old Ohio native with a passion for the Cleveland Browns and the history of exploration to climb aboard an old sailboat, loaded with hand-me-down equipment and freeze-dried food, and embark on a mission that more experienced and practical sailors equate to suicide?

The simple answer is charity. Rutherford concocted his idea as a way to raise money for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), an Annapolis-based organization that aims to provide sailing opportunities for physically and/or developmentally disabled persons. While Rutherford is about 80 percent done with his voyage, he is only about 10 percent of the way to his fundraising goal of $250,000 for CRAB’s projects.

But as one would expect, there is a larger mission at work here, a quest for self-knowledge and inner peace that Rutherford hasn’t always been able to find on dry land. He was born and raised, he says, in a cult, before becoming “angry and confused” as a youth and taking to street life, spending much of his teens going in and out of juvenile detention centers.

The life of adventure that he chose in his 20s as a means of escape has led him, among other places, to a solo bicycle journey across Southeast Asia and a pair of trans-Atlantic sails. His latest adventure makes those seem like child’s play.

So this is a “quest for self-knowledge,” including a heavyweight, to the near-death fight with loneliness on a tiny board. That’s interesting.

So he was raised in “a cult,” a term that certainly raises more questions than it answers. And what kind of cult might that have been? Was there a place? A name? A particular religion that was twisted until it became dangerous?

Sorry, but there are no answers in this piece for any of those questions. In the end, the editors at the Post leave readers with more information about this battered sailing equipment than they do about the contents of this man’s mind, heart and soul. That’s interesting, and sad.

Perhaps Rutherford didn’t want to answer specific questions about that part of this life. Perhaps the answers are hard to explain — in a newspaper. Perhaps this wasn’t a “religious” cult, but merely one centering on a secular, but charismatic, leader. That would be interesting, if that were the case.

But let me state once again: It certainly seems that, when facing questions about Rutherford’s formative years, we are dealing with the WHY that launched this remarkable man onto the high seas seeking healing and inner peace. Is that a key to this story or what?

PHOTO: From the Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating website.

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Yes, it’s a somewhat haunted ghost story

Let’s say that you have these Southern guys who are willing — for $2,000 or so — to show up at your house or camp out on your property and perform some kind of deep-fried mostly secular exorcism.

The bottom line is that they smoke a few cigarettes, tell a few ghost stories, down a couple of cold ones, watch for “demonic orbs” and — yes, you knew this was coming — they say also a prayer or two.

Who are Gracy Carter and his associates and what are they doing in the hallowed pages of The New York Times?

Grady, 66, is the winner of three purple hearts in Vietnam; his son, Chris, 41, is a former long-haul trucker; and Andy, 46, is a former bodyguard. Now all three Carter men are Twisted Dixie, a team of
paranormal investigators — or, to use their less preferred term, ghostbusters. For fees upward of $2,000 per demonic possession, they camp out at night in clients’ houses, barns, businesses or woods and “document paranormal activity,” Andy explains, referring to “ghosts, demons, poltergeists.” Twisted Dixie grosses a little more than $50,000 a year, sometimes charging fees for long investigations and sometimes working on spec at famous sites like Fort Sumter and the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbe­ville, S.C. — often called the birthplace and the deathbed of the Confederacy, and the home of Twisted Dixie. No matter the job, they always work at night because, they say, that’s when ghosts tend to whisper.

On one level, it sounds like a reality show in the making, a franchise that will fit somewhere out there in cable TV land between the Bigfoot investigators, the UFO historians and the folks that wrestle with gators, giant snakes and fish.

Yet this ghost chasin’ is taking place deep in Bible Belt country. You know religion is in here somewhere, haunting the proceedings. Right?

The goal on this night is to find out why the tortured souls of some dead slaves are so angry. You see, there’s this cotton gin that mysteriously started running again, saith the owner, and she also heard screaming.

The cotton gin took up almost the entire barn. It was a monstrous machine, all gears, levers, belts, funnels, steam boilers and bits of cotton caught in its jagged teeth. At that point, the investigation officially began: Chris opened a cooler and passed out 24-ounce cans of beer; everyone lighted cigarettes; Andy unfolded aluminum deck chairs. Then we all stood around in a circle, heads bowed, while Chris recited a prayer to St. Michael the archangel, “to deliver us in battle from malice and the snares of the devil.” Chris explained that ghosts manifest themselves to mortals because they’re looking for help from their torment. “So we say the prayer so they won’t follow us home,” Chris said. “Sometimes they will, because let’s face it, if you were a ghost, would you rather hang out in an empty house with other ghosts, or with people and have a good time?”

And so forth and so on.

So, GetReligion readers, what are the questions that you are asking right now? I can think of several, right from the get go.

* The Catholic Church — the folks who usually hang out with St. Michael the Archangel — have real clergy who are trained as exorcists. I don’t think that’s who these folks are, based on the depth of the Times reporting.

* There are plenty of evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians who take “spiritual warfare” pretty seriously, these days. However, I have never heard of them taking money for this work. Come to think of it, they normally wouldn’t show up with an ice chest full of beer and some cigarettes, either.

* Truth is, I’m having a hard time imagining Catholics or Protestants hiring these folks.

This brings us to some rather basic questions that need to be answered in an article of this kind.

Why are these guys, in terms of the religious claims they are making? Who are their supporters? What do the local religious authorities — Catholic, Protestant and otherwise — think of them?

Not a clue, after reading this story.

Who hires these guys and writes them checks to perform these freelance exorcisms?

Not a clue, after reading this story.

The basic impression is that this whole thing is a deep-fried joke. If this is the case, it would be nice if the story included enough basic facts for Times readers to be able to render that kind of judgment.

It’s an interesting story. Where’s the rest of it?

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Keep Christ out of this Christmas

As strange as this sounds, I am here to sing the praises of the Baltimore Sun editors who to conceived and executed the following A1 Christmas season feature that — praise the Lord — contains absolutely no religious material or sentiment whatsoever (with the possible exception of Baachus and there may be a golden calf in here somewhere).

No, this story is about the real American Christmas, to one that rocks our world from Black Friday until Christmas Day, before our culture rolls into the holy days known as the NFL playoffs.

While reading this thing, I kept waiting for the moment when the “C” word would or would not be used, in place of the safe, secular “holidays” incantation.

The premise for this story is that it’s hard to get American men to do their duties this time of year, which means heading to the nearest shopping mall and doing their part to keep their marriages and/or families united and the nation’s economy intact. Something must be done.

The answer is to combine alcohol, cigars, grilled fat, credit cards and jewelry. Thus, the headline:

Looking for every sale, retailers inject testosterone into holiday shopping

Malls and other businesses try to lure elusive guy shoppers with manly mainstays like booze and beef

And here is the heart of the matter — the reason for the season.

Clergy may want to sit down. Ready? Now proceed into these summary paragraphs.

… (If) men won’t go to the malls, the vendors are coming to them — either that or doing everything to make their shops as tavern-like and man-friendly as possible.

“If it wasn’t for a strong Christmas and men coming in and purchasing from the certain places, like the jewelry stores, I’m not so sure they’d be in business,” says Nancy Hafford, executive director at Towson Chamber of Commerce and planner of the shopping district’s men’s event for Dec. 22. “They tend to buy larger gifts, they just do.”

To attract the swaggering, Grillo & Co. jewelers on Allegheny Avenue will be pitching an outdoor tent for men’s night where guys can puff on stogies and quaff wine, lest the diamonds and pearls start to sap anyone’s virility. …

Manor Tavern advertised its first attempt at men’s night by pointing to bourbon, single malts and — the piece de resistance — manly one-pound slabs of prime rib. If there was a salad included, the tavern kept that to themselves.

When I say that this is a totally religion-free Christmas story, what I really mean is that it is a story free of the messages of Advent, Christmas, Chanukah or any other religious season that I am aware of. I am also not joking when I say that I am thankful that the editors put absolutely zero religious content into this awesome materialist mash up.

This is a Christmas story for everyone whose Christmas is completely based on the rites of mall and Mammon.

My question is simple: Should the story have said as much? Should it have embraced its anti-Christmas vibe and run with it? This is, after all, The Holidays as they are now defined in mass media. Should the The Sun have proudly stated the obvious, for those who believe?

Put the cash in Christmas. Go ahead, name it and claim it.

Even barrel-aged bravery couldn’t embolden guys to approach the spa stand.

“I was over there and saw ‘breast enhancement’ and walked away fast,” said a still-unnerved Bill Varnell of Glen Rock, Pa. “No way.”

Varnell did buy some spices — a packet of the “flat iron steak rub.” “My wife loves my cooking,” he said.

It was a quiet night for Laurie Imhoff, who came from Catonsville to try to sell quilted purses and bags. She suspected what with the drinks and all their buddies around, the men were having trouble focusing.

“I can’t imagine my husband ever going to something like this,” she said. “I think it’s a neat concept because they don’t like going to malls.” …

Clearly, newspapers have a challenge when they are covering these kinds of stories.

This is A KIND of Christmas story, after all. It’s hard work and somebody has to do it. This may even be the dominant story that has to be written. However, isn’t this really THE HOLIDAYS story? Or is that an editorial statement?

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Today’s post-Christian Europe news chuckle

I have absolutely no comment about the following RNS piece at all.

None. Zero. Zip. Nada. Niente.


I mean, I have no comment other than that I am shocked, shocked, that this globe-shaking religion-news story did not receive more coverage in the mainstream press.

Are you sitting down?

BERLIN – Pope Benedict XVI can cross an outstanding charge of failing to use a seatbelt from his list of worries. The southern German city of Freiburg … threw out charges against the pontiff for riding in his popemobile without a seatbelt during a September visit.

“There will be no fine for the pope,” city spokeswoman Edith Lamersdorf, told the daily Badische Zeitung. “The charges were quashed.”

Although there is a requirement in Germany to wear seatbelts, even in slow-moving vehicles, city officials ruled that the law didn’t apply in the pope’s case because the street on which he was spotted without a seatbelt had been closed for public traffic the day of his visit. Attorney Christian Sundermann had filed the complaint on behalf of an unnamed German resident of Dortmund. …

The unnamed plaintiff argued that the pope was seen several times during the visit without a seat belt. The complaint offered several eyewitnesses, including the archbishop of Freiburg, the head of the German Conference of Bishops and the premier of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Sundermann’s office had also entered a YouTube clip of the visit, which shows Benedict touring in a German-made Mercedes-Benz popemobile. …

Actually, it is possible that this riveting story received more coverage in Europe than in the United States. See what I mean?

Also, this blog item may also be evidence that your GetReligionistas will post almost anything during extremely busy weeks (it is exit week for students here at the Washington Journalism Center) that also happen to coincide with weeks that take the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway into corners of the world that do not contain wifi.

Just saying.

Feel free to discuss this news item, however. Make my day.

IMAGE: Crucial evidence is found at the end of this YouTube clip.

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NYTs shows admirable restraint, this time

As strange as it sounds, I think it’s time to offer praise to the editors at The New York Times for showing admirable restraint in their early coverage of Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho Falls.

At the very least, the man accused of spraying the outside of the White House with multiple shots from a Romanian-made semiautomatic rifle — with a “large scope” — could have been called a born-again Christian in the newspaper of record’s headline and lede.

Why? Hey, he is claiming to be the modern-day reincarnation of Jesus Christ, sort of. That’s born again, right? Sort of? What he’s saying isn’t precisely conservative Christian doctrine, but, what the heck, he shot at the White House.

I’m joking around. Honest. I actually think that the Times story did a good job of quoting the various strange elements of this story, without trying to pin an easy religious label on this man.

After the newsy details of this strange incident — including the President Barak Obama is the “Antichrist” lingo in the lede — here is some of the important Godtalk information offered about the accused trigger man:

Besides the one friend who told investigators that Mr. Ortega-Hernandez had said he believed the president was the “Antichrist” and that he needed to kill him, another friend said he stated “President Obama was the problem with the government,” was “the devil,” and that he “needed to be taken care of.” The second friend also said he appeared to be “preparing for something.”

Mr. Ortega-Hernandez has had legal problems in Idaho, Texas, and Utah, including charges related to drug offenses, resisting arrest and assault on a police officer, officials have said. He is said to be heavily tattooed, with the word “Israel” on his neck and pictures of rosary beads and hands clasped in prayer on his chest.

For journalists, this “he is said to be” language is a bit troubling. However, this seems to be vivid and factual information, even though it is most strange. The details are sure to be checked out.

That’s the point. Strange factual information offers readers information to make their own decisions about this man, his motivations, etc. Factual information is good. It’s a whole lot better than vague, loaded labels that tell the reader more about the assumptions of journalists than about the life and behaviors of the accused.

Yes, this is true for all kinds of believers — alleged Christians, Muslims, pagans, unbelievers, you name it. The goal in these kinds of hot-button stories is to find and report information about the role that religion played or did not play in the incident. If a gunman says he’s Jesus Christ, Jr., then report that. If a gunman kills a Pakistani politician and says he did it for Allah, then report that.

But mere words are not enough. Journalists have to move past quotations and, at some point, they must find the practical details that attempt to show links between a religious life (for good or ill) and concrete actions (either sacred or hellish).

That’s journalism. Facts are more journalistic than labels.

By the way, here’s a sample of the language Ortega-Hernandez tossed around in a video prepared to promote his cause, whatever that cause turns out to be (real or imagined). This sample is from an online CBS report:

In a video made at Idaho State University in September, he said this about himself: “It’s not just a coincidence that I look like Jesus. I am the modern day Jesus Christ that you all have been waiting for.” …

In a 20-minute video posted by CBS Affiliate KBOI, Ortega-Hernandez claims to be the second coming of Christ, and talks about Nostradamus and receiving a “message thorough time.”

“When I first saw that, there was no doubt in my mind that the message sent through time was solely for me,” Ortega-Hernandez said.

Rest assured that there is more coverage to come.

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Fit of knavery at The Mail copy desk?

There are times, in journalism, when one needs to laugh instead of crying.

This may or may not be one of those cases. I do not know. Honest.

To make a long story short, the following story from The Daily Mail is not the kind of report that I would be joking about, under normal conditions. Thus, let’s deal with the horrific details first, before we reach at the humorous mistake that provides a journalistic subplot.

You may want to sit down before reading this one:

Churchgoers were left stunned after a man tore out both his eyeballs in the middle of a priest’s sermon at Sunday Mass in a scene that resembled a horror film.

Parishioners in Viareggio, near Pisa, in northern Italy, could only watch as one of their number calmly stood up and carried out the horrific self-mutilation in front of them.

Aldo Bianchini, 46, who was born in Britain but has lived in Italy most of his life, is believed to have suffered from voices. He collapsed to the floor in a pool of blood as his mother frantically tried to help him while the local priest father Lorenzo Tanganelli rushed out to alert emergency services.

The drama happened at the Sant’Andrea church and last night surgeons at the local hospital said that after several hours surgery they had been unable to save his sight and he would remain blind.

Doctors said that before the surgery Bianchini had told them he had “heard voices” telling him to tear out his eyes and Dr Gino Barbacci said: “In all my 26 years of service I have never seen anything like this before. He was in a great deal of agony and he was covered in blood. He said that he had used his bare hands to gouge out his eye balls after hearing voices telling him to do so — to do something like that requires super human strength. …”

Terrible. Bizarre. Yet this was also a story made for the British tabloid story if there ever was one.

As you would expect, journalists probed for every colorful detail that they could in terms of the scene of this bloody drama and the precise sequence of events, as reported by horrified onlookers.

It is in this context that readers hear, once again, from the priest. I assume that this man is Father, not “father,” Lorenzo Tanganelli — as he was described earlier in the report. As we will see, the Mail reporter and editors who worked on this story have some gaps, when it comes to their knowledge of ecclesiastical language.

So let’s return to the story, with the priest noting:

“I had just started to read the sermon when all of a sudden there was a great commotion.

“This man at the back of the knave started tearing at his face and I realized he was gouging out his eyes. …”

Uh, is this the “knave” as in:

archaic — (a) : a boy servant (b) : a male servant (c) : a man of humble birth or position
2 — : a tricky deceitful fellow

Or might this priest actually have been referring to the “nave,” as in:

1 (n) The central part of a church, extending from the narthex to the chancel and flanked by aisles.

Let’s assume that the second word is correct.

Now, this is a rather silly little mistake. Nevertheless, I am curious. GetReligion readers, do you think this deserves a correction? Also, what think ye of the bizarre scriptural reference at the end of this news report?

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The con man and his generic church

As your GetReligionistas have said many times, this whole post-denominational age in which we now live continues to present some major challenges for mainstream reporters and editors.

I mean, it was one thing when religious believers tended to clump in hundreds of different herds with often strange sounding names that mean something to insiders, but sound like technical mush to outsiders. This is picky, picky stuff.

OK, troops, explain the doctrinal differences between the Missouri-Synod Lutherans and the folks in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, making a special effort to clearly explain why so many people in both of these groups cannot accurately be described as “evangelicals” in the same sense as the people at your friendly local evangelical megachurch. Then, once you have done that, explain why some people — in both of those Lutheran flocks — can accurately be called “evangelicals.” You have, at the most, one paragraph. Begin.

I bring this up because of a recent Los Angeles Times story about a con man who turned to Jesus, and Oprah, and now appears to have returned to his old con tricks. The name is quite famous — Barry Minkow. Here’s the opening of the report, with a few comments:

Barry Minkow’s former congregation accused the con man-turned-preacher of misusing church funds and luring its members into bad investments, allegations that forced a two-week delay in sentencing for the admitted two-time fraud artist.

Here is my first question: Shouldn’t this man, under Associated Press style, be called “the Rev. Barry Minkow”? Or has he already been defrocked? Wait, more on that question in a minute.

San Diego’s Community Bible Church said in a letter, part of a confidential pre-sentencing probation report, that Minkow improperly used church funds to finance the fraud-busting business he ran on the side, his defense lawyer said. The letter also attacks Minkow for leading members of his flock to make ill-fated investments in an unreleased movie about his life, said the lawyer, Alvin Entin.

“It accused Barry of everything except being in bed with a live girl or a dead boy,” Entin said.

Time for another picky question. The story says that the church wrote a letter saying “blah, blah, blah.” Stop and think about this. You mean the whole church congregation sat down and wrote it? I would assume not. I would assume that some kind of governing board at the congregation produced this letter, some small body of leaders.

Ah, but this raises another question. This is called a “Community Bible Church.” What in the world do these words mean? In short, what kind of church is this? The body’s beliefs statement helps a little bit, but not much (click here to check it out).

I would argue that this is actually a crucial question in this specific story. Why? The bottom line is that this is almost certainly a completely independent conservative church of some kind — a nondenominational or post-denominational body, like unto thousands that have sprung up from sea to shining sea in recent decades. Who is in charge? Who is supervising this church? And, while asking these questions, let’s add another: When something goes wrong, who is liable? With whom does the buck stop?

This kind of question is crucial when you’re covering a fraud case.

Latter in the story, an important — but vague — word appears.

Entin said he plans to argue that Minkow had not wronged the church because he always returned funds he used to finance investigations by his Fraud Discovery Institute, a for-profit business Minkow operated on the side. Several church elders invested their own money in the institute, the lawyer said.

“Barry wasn’t stealing anything from the church,” Entin said. “He put in more than he took out. In fact, he worked without pay for the last four years.”

Entin said his client waived a salary of more than $125,000 a year because the church was financially stretched and his institute was making money. Officials at the church, where Minkow had worked for 14 years, did not return calls seeking comment.

Minkow was convicted in the 1980s of operating his ZZZZ Best cleaning firm as a fraud. He emerged from prison as a repentant born-again minister and anti-fraud crusader. His latest conviction stalled the opening of a laudatory movie about his rise, fall and rehabilitation, leaving filmmakers scrambling to craft a new ending.

So there is a board of “elders,” which implies some structure. To whom does this board answer? Most likely, the answer is going to be — the ministers. It’s a perfect circle in most independent churches of this kind. That circle of authority, or lack thereof, is the big story of the post-denominational age.

The story includes all kinds of serious information about the dollars and cents, which is logical in a business-section report. However, I do not see how readers are supposed to figure out the nature of these misdeeds without knowing something about Minkow’s ministerial career and the church itself. Who ordained him? Where did he go to seminary? Other than God, who was this man’s boss? Oh, and who was making this movie? A non-profit religious group?

In short, where did this large, once thriving church and its converted con-man pastor come from? We need to know something about that issue in order to grasp what may or may not happen next. One or two sentences, please? This information is at the heart of the alleged crime.

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