Needless to say, your GetReligionistas understand that people in the press — on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean — are happy that there is a new baby in England’s Royal Family, and one with a complex and interesting connection to the USA.
Journalists may not be as excited as Prince Harry is, at this moment in time. But that is understandable. Check out the top of this New York Times report about the prince’s informal and very untraditional presser, which — #GASP — broke with the royal norm.
I think the key word here is “amazing.”
LONDON — Prince Harry could barely contain himself. Facing a news camera to announce his son’s birth, he rubbed his hands together, bounced on the balls of his feet and seemed unable to stop himself from grinning, even for a second.
“It’s been the most amazing experience I can ever possibly imagine,” he said, standing in front of the stables at Windsor Castle, where two black horses nodded behind him.
“How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension, and we’re both absolutely thrilled,” he said about his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. The duchess, he said, was “amazing,” and the birth “amazing,” and the love and support from the public “amazing.”
So that’s that. Later on in this Times report there is a passage — caught by an eagle-eyed reader — that draws us into a subject that has been discussed many times over the years at this here weblog.
The question: Why are more and more reporters and copyeditors ignoring Associated Press style rules when it comes to the formal titles of ordained religious leaders? In this case, I will go ahead and add a question that I have asked many times (one example here): Why do formal titles that have existed for decades (or in some cases centuries) seem to vanish when journalists write about (a) African-American clergy and/or (b) ordained women?
Here is the passage in question, in which someone at the Times (I will not assume the reporter) was caught up in informal Meghan-and-Harry fervor and, well, forgot to give a certain American clergy person the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. that he deserves. Here is the reference, in context:
The baby is sure to be the object of uncommon fascination, adored and criticized as a symbol of the modernization of Britain’s royal family.
Harry, 34, and Meghan, 37, have shaken up the royal family in a number of ways: The duchess is an American and a former actress, and their wedding last May featured a gospel choir, a freestyling African-American bishop and a gaggle of Hollywood celebrities.
They continued to set aside convention after the wedding, opening their own Instagram account and offering little access to the royal-obsessed British news media. In April, they announced they were canceling the traditional photo opportunity outside the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in the heart of London, curtailing the ritual hullabaloo that usually surrounds royal births.
Now, let’s unpack this a bit.
On the other side of the pond there is this grand old institution called The Church of England — the font, so to speak, of the global Anglican Communion. Anglican leaders have all kinds of complex and even picky titles that have been around for ages The same thing is true in the Anglican branches (that plural is controversial) here in America.
So, that “freestyling African-American bishop” who preached and preachd at the Harry-and-Meghan wedding? He is actually, in Anglican terms, the U.S. version of an archbishop — which means he is a pretty big deal. He even has a name and a formal title. Here is the top of the TEC bio:
The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry is Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church. He is the Chief Pastor and serves as President and Chief Executive Officer, and as Chair of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.
Presiding Bishop Curry was installed as the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church on November 1, 2015.
So, was it unusual that the U.S. presiding bishop — as opposed to an English bishop or archbishop — preached at this particular wedding?
Unusual, but there was logic in this choice. Some would say that it was significant and symbolic, seeing as how the bride was an American, an American with a white father and an African-American mother.
I would agree that it is one thing to insert a rather cryptic comment about Curry’s preaching style. It is something else to omit his name and formal title — leaving out the important fact that this was an Anglican bishop in an Anglican pulpit.
Once again, we face a basic fact about the religion beat. Words matter. As I wrote last year:
… Newsrooms need at least one religion-beat professional involved in the everyday news process. When I worked in large newsrooms, people – copy editors, wire-desk specialists – were constantly walking over to my desk and asking questions about religious terms and facts. I was a human reference book.
At the same time, this simple mistake also shows how important it is for editors and stylebook teams to "get" the complicated the world of religion. Would someone call a rabbi a "priest" or refer to the head of a local mosque as a "rabbi"? Probably not.
So when a story shows up on the news wires referring to evangelical pastors as "priests," it's OK to stop and say, "Wait a minute. That can't be right." Of course, unless we are talking about low-church or charismatic Anglicans, in which case you might have some priests who also call themselves "evangelicals."
Like I said, religion is complicated.
Editors! Hire yourself a professional to serve as a human stylebook in your newsroom. You need one, whether you know it or not.