This is one of those religion stories that, on one level, sounds perfectly logical to one set of readers. At the same time, other people may read the same story and want to laugh to keep from crying or, in a few cases, readers may want to laugh, then cry, then bash their heads into a wall. This presents problems to journalists who want to serious, balanced coverage of the issue in question.
So with that in mind, let's read the top of this story from The Daily Mail about another liturgical innovation in the Church of England. The lengthy headline sets the stage:
The christening without much Christianity: Anglican church offers 'baptism lite' to attract non-worshippers
Then the story offers the basics:
Church of England baptism services may be re-written to remove some references to Christianity.
The plan for a new "baptism lite" service designed to make christenings more interesting to non-churchgoers will be considered next month by the Church's parliament, the General Synod.
Supporters say the baptism service should be "expressed in culturally appropriate and accessible language" that is readily understood by "non-theologically versed Britons." But traditionalist clergy said the idea amounted to "dumbing down."
The new service would be used at 150,000 christenings each year. If the plan is accepted, it will be the third full re-write of the baptism ceremony in around 30 years -- the version in the Church's Book of Common Prayer went virtually unaltered for more than 400 years until 1980.
Now, if you study the lede you will notice that it states that these highly symbolic change "may be" approved. However, one can assume that sample liturgical texts have been created -- at seminaries and in some ecclesiastical offices that deal with these kinds of matters.
Thus, I have trouble understanding why the story does not include several concrete examples of the contents of this new "lite" version of this rite. Readers deserve some sample language, contrasting the current version with the new baptism "lite" rite. What heavy doctrinal passages and references to Christianity will be taken out? What clearly Christian language will be left in, since one can assume that Canterbury does not want to create another hot-button issue to discuss with millions of traditionalists around the world.
We do get this one sample:
In one, parents, godparents or an adult being baptised are asked to "reject the devil and all rebellion against God" and to renounce "the deceit and corruption of evil." They are asked to "submit to Christ as Lord."
Now this makes it sound as if the rite will be light on references to evil and sin, while keeping some Christian language intact. However, is "Christ" or even "the Christ" the norm, as opposed to "Jesus Christ"? In the interest of sexism, has the "Trinity" made the grade, but not references to "Father, Son and Holy Spirit"? Or has the rite gone fully gender neutral with a formula such as "Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier"?
We just don't know.
One clear example of the proposed changes is simply not enough. After all, the changes themselves -- concrete examples -- are at the heart of the story. What will this "lite" rite say and do? How will it appeal to people who want a church service, but not a church service that is burdensome? How do Anglican leaders know that 150,000 people want these changes? Are people walking out of baptism services because of traditional language?
Give us some of the rite stuff.
Readers deserve a bit more information, not a hot headline and a few paragraphs charged with church politics.
Photo: The font at Canterbury Cathedral.