Let's say that you are a regular reader of religion news and you see a story with this simple, but bold headline: "Meet Pennsylvania's unlikely 'Pastor for Pot'."
In this story, you find out that the clergyperson in question -- introduced as Shawn Berkebile, with no "The Rev." -- likes to wear a clerical collar and that he has a bishop, with whom he consults on crucial questions about his parish and his work.
Now, combine these symbolic facts and most religion-news consumers are going to ask a rather basic question. It's certainly a question that sprang into the mind of the religion-beat veteran who sent me an email the other day about this story.
Apparently, editors at The York Daily Record didn't think this question was all that relevant.
The GetReligion reader, and media pro, noted:
NOWHERE in the story does it say what kind of congregation it is: Episcopal, Unitarian, Assemblies of God, whatever. ... And the only reference to his bishop is strangely devoid of context. ...
The omissions ... took what should have been a good story and just made it strange, as if the writer was trying to conceal something.
This religion-beat veteran noted that there is a photo -- a quite small one, in the online version of the story -- in which one can read a sign identifying this pastor's congregation as St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church. It would be logical to assume that this means Berkebile and his small flock are part of the progressive Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A bit of online digging confirmed that.
Why omit this perfectly normal and, in this case, not very shocking fact? Religion-beat professionals and dedicated readers: Raise your hand if you are surprised that a young ELCA pastor is in favor of liberalized medical marijuana laws. Anyone? Not me. Still, this long, chatty (it verges on a kind of journalistic Dr. Seuss approach, at times) and interesting news feature opens like this: