Costly media ventures trigger identity crisis.

A year after a dispute broke into public view, a fight over religious identity and heritage continues deeply to divide the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The argument inside Christian Science has attracted public notice because it seemed to center on the expensive failure of the Monitor Channel, an ambitious attempt to transfer the clout of the church’s respected daily newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, to the world of cable television.

The church was forced to shut down the cable venture last spring after “betting the company,” in the words of one of its senior managers, that the world was ready for the temperate worldview and religious optimism that undergirds Christian Science.

Forced by the controversy to make a fuller accounting of its spending, the church’s administration told members last June that they had spent $325 million on television since 1984.

Yet, television was not the only costly operation. The church also expanded into shortwave radio and a domestic radio news service, Monitor Radio, and began a monthly consumer news magazine, World Monitor. The church has spent $900 million in the past eight years on the daily newspaper and three religious periodicals.

That is an astounding sum for so small a denomination, which has an estimated 150,000 to 175,000 members worldwide. Member dissatisfaction arose with disclosure by a senior church financial official that officials had secretly borrowed from endowment funds and the pension fund in order to brake a slide toward bankruptcy.

At the same time, some of the most respected religious figures in the church broke with the current administration because the church decided to publish a long-suppressed book about church founder ...

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