Those pesky religious details in Palestinian-Israel conflict

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I’m no expert on the fighting in the Gaza Strip.

In fact, I’m typing this post with trepidation — hoping not to say something entirely stupid (yes, that’s a weekend softball for all my snarky friends).

But seriously, I offer the above caveat before critiquing a front-page story in today’s Houston Chronicle on dueling rallies by thousands of demonstrators:

Westheimer was the dividing line Friday as the Palestinian-Israel conflict played out in feuding but peaceful demonstrations on a busy Houston intersection near the Galleria usually populated with shoppers.

In the pro-Palestine rally, about 2,000 people seen lining both sides of Post Oak had the largest and loudest presence with chant leaders on bullhorns proclaiming: “Free, free Palestine, occupation is a crime.”

Hundreds of demonstrators on the other side, closer to the Galleria, waved blue and white Israeli flags and were flanked by a large banner that declared: “We fight Islamic terror.”

The Chronicle story is about 700 words — not a lot of space but typical of a daily newspaper report.

But the reporter manages to pack a lot of information into the concise account, quoting an equal number of demonstrators on both sides and including some specific religious details:

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Holy Scouts! Southern Baptists didn’t do what we expected!

So, when push came to shove, what did the Southern Baptist Convention decide to do about the Boy Scouts of America?

To the surprise of the national press, the debate in the national convention ended up featuring a variety of voices making a variety of interesting and valid points about Scouting and its new approach to gay members. In the end, the nation’s largest Protestant flock elected to do something that was more Baptist and congregational than it was political — they left the ultimate decision about supporting or leaving the Boy Scouts of America up to local congregations.

Thus, some news organizations clearly didn’t know how to handle this.

Did The New York Times even do a story? I cannot find one on the site. The lesson? If the story doesn’t go the way you expected, then don’t cover it.

Or, you can take the approach used in The Los Angeles Times. Try to find the key fact — the fact that the SBC said churches should make their own decisions — at the top of this report:

HOUSTON – Members of the Southern Baptist Convention at their annual meeting Wednesday voted to support families who leave the Boy Scouts due to the group’s plans to accept gay Scouts, urged the removal of Boy Scout leaders who championed accepting gays and encouraged former Boy Scouts to join a Southern Baptist youth group instead.

“Homosexuality is directly opposed to everything that Scouting stands for. I am disappointed in Scouting,” said the Rev. Wes Taylor in speaking for the resolution endorsed by the convention. “They are moving away from the principles that it was founded upon. This is an attempt to open the door to broaden the acceptance of homosexuality in that organization. It is an environment that would prove just fertile for young boys to be exposed to something that is ungodly and unacceptable.”

The proposal was submitted by the Southern Baptist Committee on Resolutions.

All valid, but the story totally missed the point of the key debates on the convention floor. In fact, the story does not include a direct reference to the most important element of the decision — the defense of local-church autonomy. It is clear that thousands of SBC churches will continue to be critical (in multiple meanings of that word) participants in Scouting for some time to come.

You can tell that the newspaper’s scribe heard some of the debate. The following information is crucial and hints at the issue lurking in the background — the distinction the Boy Scouts (echoing language used by Catholics and Mormons, to cite two key groups) are drawing between sexual orientation and opposition to sexual activity, gay or straight, by Scouts.

Thus, the story notes:

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