Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug. I thought of Twain’s addage as I read an article by the Washington Times’ Julia Duin about Joshua DuBois, the 26-year-old Obama campaign staffer who has been selected to run the president’s office for faith-based outreach.
DuBois, it’s been widely reported, is a former Assemblies of God minister. But that’s news to Juleen Turnage, spokeswoman for the 2.9 million member Assemblies of God denomination, based in Springfield, Mo.
“We’ve never heard from him,” Turnage told Duin.
“But if he’s Assemblies of God, why don’t they know about him in Springfield,” I wondered.
Well, it turns out DuBois isn’t affiliated with the Assemblies of God. His membership is in the Cambridge, Mass.-based United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God.
The Assemblies of God (Springfield) has 12,362 churches in the U.S.. The Assemblies of God (Cambridge) lists 26 congregations scattered across the country.
It’s an understandable mistake. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Protestant denominations in the U.S. Many of them have similar names. There’s the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) for example, which shouldn’t be confused with the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.) [What's the difference between the two? For starters, you can speak in tongues at a Cleveland church. Try that at an Anderson congregation and they may show you the door.]
The Church of God shouldn’t be confused with the Church of Christ which is different from the United Church of Christ and completely separate from the Church of God in Christ.
It’s hard enough for religion reporters to keep them all straight.
Confusing the groups can cause all kinds of trouble. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes polygamy. But the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports it. The FLDS are few in number. The LDS count millions of members. Confuse the two groups — or fail to explain that they’re separate institutions — and you do a disservice to Mormons and to readers.
Likewise, anyone can call their church Catholic. That doesn’t make the church Roman Catholic. This is a key difference, but one that evades some folks. Hence, recent newspaper stories about the Catholic Church “ordaining” women priests.