When real life imitates The Onion: Welcome to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Colorado

It's "Punk'd" day at GetReligion.

Either that or the farcical newspaper The Onion has taken over real-life headlines.

My day started with this 100 percent serious tweet from Sarah Pulliam Bailey, the former GetReligionista who now covers religion for the Washington Post:

I don't guess we have to ask anymore what the Los Angeles Times is smoking. (I kid. I kid.)

Now, at this point I should stop the sarcasm and remind all of us (mainly myself) of the role of a journalist — specifically one writing about religion:

Among the traits that are assets for religion journalists, according to the Religion Newswriters Association: Respect for the role of faith in people's lives. Immense curiosity about religion. An abiding sense of fairness and balance. A commitment to covering all kinds of diversity.

And this:

Willingness to spend time with all sorts of people in the places where they live, gather and worship. 

OK, I suppose all of those factors could come into play in covering a stoner Bible study (although I'd urge the reporter to be like Bill Clinton and not inhale).

Let's start at the top:

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — As snow began to fall outside, Deb Button snuggled up on her couch, fired up a joint and spoke of the nature of Christ.
"Even if Jesus didn't smoke weed, he'd still be a stoner," she said, exhaling a white cloud.
Her kitten sniffed the air curiously.
"Jesus was peaceful and loving. He went from house to house and was always accepted," she explained. "Only a stoner could do that."
Theologians might dispute that, but this was the Stoner Jesus Bible Study, where the divine is liberally interpreted through a haze of pot.
Button, a self-described fortysomething soccer mom with two teenage sons, started the group last May. Disenchanted with her church, she was using marijuana to relieve migraines when something peculiar happened.
"One night I got high and had the most incredible spiritual experience of my life," she said. "I'm sitting in my living room and the cannabis was kicking in at a higher dose, and I could literally feel God. I was filled with love, an indwelling of love."

Keep reading, and the Times treats the subject matter relatively seriously.

Readers are told that "religions are conflicted about pot":

Its legalization in many parts of the country has not only posed a challenge to law enforcement, banking and regulators; it has also exposed spiritual rifts. Many mainstream denominations have made allowances for medical use but won't accept recreational pot.

Later, there's this rundown of where various faith groups stand on marijuana use:

Pope Francis, known for his progressive stance on gay rights and income inequality, has denounced legalized pot, while ultraconservative televangelist Pat Robertson supports it.
The United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches approve of medical marijuana in keeping with Matthew 25:35, in which Jesus talks about relieving suffering. Opponents, including many evangelicals, cite Bible passages telling believers not to engage in drunkenness, which they say includes intoxicants like pot.

I won't dissect that note on Francis' "progressive stance on gay rights," but I will point readers to a previous tmatt post on the media's questionable handling of the pope's infamous "Who am I to judge?" statement. 

As for Robertson, didn't I read that he changed his mind on legalized marijuana? (Or maybe he changed it again?)

As for how various faith groups treat marijuana use, I found myself looking for more insight — and more direct quotes from sources responding to the stoner Bible study — than the Times provided.

Eventually, the newspaper did get around to quoting a non-pot-smoking source:

Hallucinogenic and narcotic plants, including cannabis, have played a central role in religious ceremonies for thousands of years. But Christianity has generally frowned on them, with the exception of alcohol, which is used widely in both the New and Old Testaments, said Father Thomas Reese, a senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter.
"One of the problems of using drugs in spirituality is you can confuse an emotional high with a spiritual experience, and that can be very dangerous," Reese said. "Spirituality is more than being mellow and feeling good about yourself. A spiritual experience is supposed to help you get closer to God. You should become closer with your brothers and sisters and realize your responsibility for loving your neighbor as yourself."

But overall, the piece left me in a haze — wishing there had been real more journalistic fire to go along with the "gee whiz" smoke and anecdotes.

Also, I wanted more details on the main character (Button). What was her faith journey like before she decided to be a stoner for Jesus? What church did she attend? What did she believe then? And now?

My question for GetReligion readers: Is the Stoner Jesus Bible Study really worthy of national news coverage? Or would the L.A. Times' resources be better spent on more sober subjects?

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