For me, one of the most fascinating (and complex) parts of working on the religion-news beat has been learning the many theological, technical and even legal differences that exist between the roles played by "clergy" in different religious movements.
Let me stress that I put the word "clergy" inside quotation marks for a non-scare-quote reason.
When it comes to history, some religious movements insist that they don't have ordained clergy -- yet clearly they have leaders who play some of the roles that ordained clergy play in other flocks. Remember all the controversies a few years ago about GOP White House candidate Mitt Romney and his time as a "bishop" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Suffice it to say that a Mormon bishop is not the same as a Pentecostal bishop, or a United Methodist bishop, or a Lutheran bishop, or an Anglican bishop, or an Eastern Orthodox bishop. Reporters need to understand these kinds of facts, when dealing with stories that involve clergy or other "ministers" in various religious traditions.
This brings me to a bizarre religious language issue in a story that ran the other day in The Huntsville Times in Alabama. It focuses on the arrest of a man named John Lindbergh Ellar Martin, who has been accused of possession and dissemination of child pornography. The headline: "North Alabama Catholic church staffer arrested on child porn charges."
Note the word "staffer." What, precisely, does that mean? Read carefully.