On the Importance of Getting It Right

GETTING at the truth can be maddeningly difficult. Joseph was in prison - not the best vantage point - when called upon to decipher the pharaoh's dream about the fat cattle and the lean. His interpretation, that Egypt needed a plan to store harvests during abundant years against an impending drought, was acted on, and saved the Israelites as well as the Egyptians and other peoples of that age.

We know of no other way for truth to speak but to an individual consciousness that can sort through the static of prevailing notions, flawed news reports, misrepresentations, and honest differences, and discover what is really important and relevant to the individual and his times.

Hence this word to you.

We find our modest little organization - the Christian Science Church and its activities - the subject of some public discussion this week.

The US Supreme Court let stand Monday a Michigan court decision barring a lawsuit in a case involving the death of a child, on grounds that the suit would violate the religious freedom of the church and its members. Sentencing of a California couple, acquitted of involuntary manslaughter but convicted of child endangerment for relying on prayer instead of medical treatment, is anticipated as well.

At the same time, press reports continue to surface about the church, its legal and membership challenges, and its embarkation on an electronic as well as print outreach to the world.

These stories repeat a few themes, usually focusing on ``turmoil'' over the direction of church decisions, and they reflect the persistence of the framework of a ``conflict'' story once it is lodged in electronic news-clip files. The latest is a major newsmagazine piece that quotes one of our own, presumably correctly, as saying that some members fear ``the church is becoming as worldly as the world it is trying to reach,'' at the same time that it cites this newspaper's longtime ``worldwide reputation for excellence.''

Granted, the tensions produced when change comes to a traditional organization may not be readily understood by insiders or outsiders.

Still, we want to say Enough! to this cacophony of reports in which we at times can barely recognize ourselves.

From our point of view, what are we really about, this first week of November, 1989?

First, we want to say we care for the sick, those who are hurting mentally and morally and physically.

This is our priority of heart and mission.

We care deeply for the parents and children caught in the public dispute over their reliance on spiritual rather than medical or other means of healing.

We care profoundly for the pathologically confused, the addicted, and those who want to help them. We want the beset to know we stand with them and pray for them.

We stand with those too who choose to meet their physical, mental, and relationship problems through medical and other conventional means.

Any characterization that we are indifferent to suffering wounds us, even as we recognize it may be difficult for others to understand our approach.

Second, we wish profoundly that the world's reporters advance in accuracy and fairness.

These aren't the days of yellow journalism, as when this newspaper was founded.

But we find ourselves in the position of those readers and viewers who let the news flow over them until they come to a story about something they thoroughly know. What disappointment to find the reporter got the story wrong or misleadingly half right - which prompts mistrust about the surrounding stories about subjects they don't know.

When we have offered to make sources available to reporters and these offers have been declined, or old allegations are preferred to new evidence, our confidence sags in the media's willingness to convey the truth.

This is a lesson to us of the need to ensure our own fairness.

Hence we share with readers a longing for that objectivity, balance in sourcing, and plain honest writing that builds trust in public discourse.

Nothing less can be accepted.

We don't usually speak in our behalf of our own organization, and usually then more in sorrow than in anger. We usually view these columns' purpose as assessing broad public themes.

The best statement of what this newspaper is about, and the organization behind it, is in the hands of a hundred-thousand-plus readers every day. It is heard over shortwave radiocasts or watched on television news and public service programming.

The unkindest cuts are those that impugn motives. It strikes some as incredible that a church organization would spend tens of millions of dollars to reach millions around the globe for reasons other than to expand membership rolls. Yet this is the case.

It is difficult for many to understand the paradox of public service and the pursuit of individual rights that underlies this organization's outreach.

In the interest of better understanding, in a few weeks we will publish a series of articles on the Biblical history and contemporary context of spiritual healing, the constitutional issues raised under the free exercise of religion, and examples of effective Christian healing in modern society. We hope this series will give the public a framework for viewing the legal, philosophical, and practical issues behind a healing tradition.

Getting the story right affects more than those nominally its subject. It was not the cattle that counted most in pharaoh's dream. Getting the story right is crucial to the safety and preservation of the society in which we all share.

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