Making judgment calls is as important to editors as it is to sports officials. Some times we get it right; sometimes we don’t.
One area that requires good judgment, and often restraint, has to do with news coverage of conflicts or other problems within local churches.
My mentor, Bill Neal, taught me to stay out of a congregation’s internal business unless there was a very compelling reason to jump in. And a strong desire to gossip is not compelling enough.
Church problems — such as spats between a disgruntled segment of the congregation and a pastor — rarely stay inside the congregation. What used to be communicated through telephone relays, uh, I mean “prayer chains,” and parking lot forums is posted on the “world-wide” web now.
Still, I believe the use of caution, if not restraint, remains valid.
Some might argue that the job of a journalist is to get out the news that people want to hear. That is true — to a degree.
But valid news requires a certain level of uniqueness. To use an overused illustration, that’s why television stations show plane crashes rather than routine landings.
Church leadership conflicts, sadly, are not that unique. And increased awareness by outsiders rarely helps with resolution.
However, there are some congregational struggles that impact other churches and therefore deserve coverage.
Once, in my previous job, I learned that a pastor had been arrested for a similar offense that had cost him his job at an Atlanta area church. He had moved several states away to resume his ministry.
I informed leaders of the Georgia church that the story of his arrest would be appearing in the next issue of state Baptist newspaper. One lay leader begged me not to run the story in fear that it would “open wounds” the congregation experienced years ago.
But the greater need — to make churches aware of this person’s criminal activity — overrode one congregation’s scab removal.
Still, whether (or how) to cover a church’s internal conflicts is not always so clear to me. At times I feel like a striped shirt is on my back and I’m not sure how loud to blow the whistle.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.