It was the Montana story heard ’round the world last week: three wayward teens break into the South Hills Evangelical Church (SHEC), attempt to steal money and electronic equipment, cause several thousand dollars’ worth of damage, and are promptly nabbed by police and slapped with felony burglary charges. SHEC’s response to this transgression: shower the would-be burglars with “love baskets” stuffed with Xboxes, video games, gift cards and DVD players to be delivered on Thanksgiving Day in a show of forgiveness.

“The judge will give them consequences, but as a congregation we want to reach out and extend love and mercy to them,” Jason Reimer, a SHEC outreach pastor, told the Missoulian last week.

SHEC’s mercy mission was picked up by cable and Internet news giant MSNBC, the BBC carried it in Europe, several national and international newspapers ran the AP wire version of the story, and FOX News filmed a live segment from the church last Sunday, Nov. 26.

Funny thing is, all the hype is so far based on an act of generosity that hasn’t even occurred.

“They haven’t received them yet,” SHEC youth pastor Brad Ives told the Independent Nov. 28. Ives said the church is in the process of working through lawyers to arrange for the baskets’ delivery, but SHEC officials are otherwise prohibited from personally contacting the youths while criminal proceedings are underway. (Missoula County prosecutor Suzy Boylan-Moore was out of town and unavailable for comment).

But the story itself, and all the attention paid to it, strikes us as a bassackwards case of “Man bites dog.” Since when is “Christians act Christian” an international headline?

Maybe since religion has had such a rough time in the news in recent years. From ongoing Catholic sex- abuse scandals to the Pope’s September gaffe about Muslim violence to influential evangelical pastor Ted Haggard’s meth-and-gay-“massage” fall from grace last November, God’s flock has been taking a beating in the press.

So with that in mind, we’re glad to see a local church receiving international good will for, well…following Jesus’ example

But then again, when the nation’s top-selling video games are first-person-shooters, and the No. 1 DVD in the country this holiday season is The Da Vinci Code, we’re not sure rewarding vandals and thieves with Xboxes and DVD players is the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?”

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