If you wanted to scare your readers into avoiding conservative Christian churches, how would you go about it?
The Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal section did a bang-up job on Jan. 18 with a hostile, one-sided article about church discipline, complete with a color drawing of a banished soul and the headline "Banned From Church" in massive type.
On the full runover page, the piece is illustrated with a graphic entitled "Cast Out" that helpfully gives us "A Brief History of Shunning, Excommunication and Getting Burned at the Stake in Christianity."
Skipping happily down the church hater's version of Memory Lane, the graphic shows Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and various dark moments in church history such as witch burnings, Galileo getting jailed for heresy and Joan of Arc's martyrdom. It finishes with the 20th century example of California pastor David Hocking losing his ministry in 1992 over a relationship with a married woman.
Alexandra Alter, the author, constructs her article around the case of Karolyn Caskey, 71, who has continued to attend the Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan after being expelled over a dispute with the new pastor, who declined to be interviewed. Even if the one-sided account is roughly accurate, why make it the centerpiece? The effect is to portray church discipline as bizarre and anachronistic. Indeed, the subheadline is:
"Reviving an ancient practice, churches are exposing sinners and shunning those who won't repent."