The literacy rate in the United States sits around ninety-nine percent, but sometimes you have to wonder about the accuracy of that metric given the type of stuff that passes for reading material. I am, of course, talking about a recent article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Pastor dies of COVID-19 weeks after Fontana megachurch reopened for indoor services.” The staff-written post appeared on the Times’ web site on December 3, 2020.
The article’s shocking title jumps right off the page, strongly indicating a link between the death of a pastor and the resumption of indoor services at that pastor’s church, a claim repeated in the opening paragraph.
An associate pastor for a megachurch in San Bernardino County died of COVID-19 about a month after the facility reopened indoor services.
There is reason to think that this opening commentary is accurate. If you read through the text, you discover these salient points.
- Bob Bryant was an associate pastor at Water of Life Community Church.
- Water of Life Community Church is a megachurch in Fontana, California.
- The church resumed indoor services on October 31, in violation of a San Bernardino County order.
- Bryant contracted COVID-19, passing away about a month after the indoor services resumed.
But when it comes to articles about churches, the devil, it seems, is in the details, including these key points.
- Bryant contracted COVID-19 while on vacation and did not return to the church once he developed symptoms.
- “Officials are not aware of other coronavirus cases linked to the church.”
A full reading of the article indicates that the pastor who died did not acquire the disease from the church, did not transmit the illness to anyone else at the church, and the church has not been the source of a single recorded case of the virus since resuming indoor services. In short, the article intro and its title were crafted in a way to make you think there was a connection between the pastor’s death and the church’s behavior, even though there is no evidence of a link.
Now before you get your Fontana-loving heart rate up, let it be known that I am not in favor of this church’s behavior. While I have a lot of concerns about government overreach during this present pandemic, church leaders should still engage their brains when deciding how to support their flocks in a safe manner. Given the communicable nature of the coronavirus plus the impacts that the illness has on families, healthcare workers, and people who just plain die from it, I believe that a church with 7,000 active members should greatly curtail or eliminate general indoor services until we have brought the pandemic under control. This might not be a popular opinion among American believers, but tough noogies.
Our concern here, however, is not the behavior of the pastoral staff at a large California church, but the content of an article that sought to distort the story for its own editorial purposes. We have reached a time on our nation’s history where some of the most prominent members of the Fourth Estate have no qualms about taking an otherwise mundane and likely accurate news account and affixing a brazen fabrication as its opening statement, and in a larger font size. In our modern social-media-newsfeed world, skimming headlines is an all-to-common practice, which makes the Times’ shenanigans even more concerning.
Fortunately, once you get past the title and the first paragraph, the article about the Fontana church presents a straightforward digest of the relevant facts, with little editorializing. There may come a day when some of these major news sources become too defiled even for wrapping fish. But for now, the right way to read a newspaper article seems to be skipping the headline and the initial bogus paragraph. That should hopefully get you past the opinion section.
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