Journalists love the unusual: "Man bites dog" stories are big. So how should reporters have reacted to a Minneapolis surprise last month?
Facts: A convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in August voted to ordain as clergy noncelibate homosexuals. No severe weather warnings were in place, and no tornado had come into downtown Minneapolis for a long time—at least 90 years, according to one archivist. Nevertheless, as delegates met, a tornado damaged the roof of the Minneapolis convention center where they were meeting and knocked the cross off the host church next door.
In subsequent days I read a spectrum of reports about the event. Here's a quick survey of coverage, moving from right (certainty of God's righteous action) to left (any mention should be left out, because it's certain that any god that might exist would not act in this way):
• Minneapolis pastor/author John Piper produced Bible-based news analysis of the kind standard in 17th-century journalism. (In 1681 a general meeting of Massachusetts ministers urged careful coverage of "Illustrious Providences," including "Divine Judgments, Tempests, Floods, Earth-quakes, Thunders as are unusual . . .") Citing Christ's analysis of the fatal fall of the Siloam tower (Luke 13), Piper wrote that "the tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. . . . Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners."
• Blogger (and former UPI religion editor) Uwe Siemon-Netto called the ECLA meeting "shameful" but did not conclude absolutely that God sent the tornado. He wrote, "I could not help grinning: This was truly Old Testament-style: God sometimes uses nature to make a point. Of course you will have to believe in these things in order to grasp their ramifications. If on the other hand you accept Biblical truths only selectively, as did the majority of the Minneapolis delegates, then this incident could only have been a random occurrence—you know: as random as the beginning of the universe."