legalized marijuana

Friday Five: GetReligionista's mea culpa, #JusticeForJack, SBC spell check and more

Friday Five: GetReligionista's mea culpa, #JusticeForJack, SBC spell check and more

I do a shameless plug every week.

But this week, here’s an extra shameless plug up high so I know you won't miss it.

Or maybe I just needed a good excuse to embed a video of Chicago's "Hard To Say I'm Sorry."

Seriously, my colleague Ira Rifkin had a must-read post this week that, based on our analytics, too many of you missed.

The title of the post:

How I lost my professional cool and succumbed to gossamer social media satisfaction

Here is part of my Rifkin said:

Bottom line. My skill set failed me because I reacted emotionally rather than mindfully. It’s a media trap that can nab any of us.

In an email thread among our team, Richard Ostling congratulated Rifkin on his reflection:

The media in an era when they're on the griddle hourly need more honest self-reflection and  all the accuracy and (yes) fairness and balance they can muster.


Go ahead and read Rifkin's post. Read it now.

Meanwhile, let's dive into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The #JusticeForJack case — as supporters of Colorado baker Jack Phillips dubbed it — is the easy choice this week. 

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With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

With apologies for a tired old pun: Should church leaders talk about going to pot?

As California this year becomes the eighth state to legalize “recreational” marijuana (as opposed to “medical” uses), what do American religious groups have to say about this cultural lurch?

Not much, says an accurate complaint in The Christian Century’s Jan. 3 cover story “Talking About Marijuana -- in Church.” Author Adam Hearlson laments that churches are hesitant to openly discuss such a pertinent issue, and implies they should consider support for liberalization. 

It's past time for the news media to consult religious thinkers about this.

Church wariness is reflected in the fact that the “mainline” Protestant magazine itself identified Hearlson only vaguely as “a minister, writer, scholar.” In fact he teaches preaching and worship and directs the chapel at the nation’s oldest seminary, Andover Newton (which after years of decline is about to shut down and be absorbed by Yale Divinity School).

One obvious story peg is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned Obama Administration policy, giving federal prosecutors discretion to enforce anti-pot laws, even in states where it’s legal. Both parties in the U.S. Congress have kept such laws on the books, and Department of Justice concern did not originate with the Trump Administration (.pdf document here).

Leaving aside libertarians who insist government should simply leave us alone, proponents offer three key arguments for an open “recreational” market:

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Guardian's 'Church of Cannabis' puff piece makes reader jones for ... context and critique

Guardian's 'Church of Cannabis' puff piece makes reader jones for ... context and critique

I suppose I should thank The Guardian, one of Britain's more-upscale dailies, for giving me the opportunity to post an iconic moment from U.S. television history: A performance of "One Toke Over the Line" from "The Lawrence Welk Show."

Not even Pavarotti singing Meat Loaf's greatest hits could surpass it. Believe me.

The occasion for my diversion into the valley of camp comes from a news story about one of Denver's newest congregations. Get ready for LOTS of puns and clever phrases, even if my longed-for staple, context, is sadly lacking.

Let's visit the scene of the journalistic "crime," entitled "Holy smoke! The church of cannabis" to separate, er, joint from marrow:

It started, naturally, with a group of friends smoking a joint. Steve Berke, a graduate of Yale University, was temporarily living in an old church in Denver, Colorado. His estate agent parents had bought the 113-year-old building with the plan to turn it into flats. He and Lee Molloy, as well as a few friends, had just moved from Miami to capitalise on Colorado’s lucrative marijuana market. But then, in the words of Lee: “We started having these stupid, fantastical conversations. What if we kept it as a church?” So Steve convinced his parents to give him the building and, nine months later, on 20 April 2016 – 4/20, as it’s known in the United States, the unofficial pothead’s holiday (because it’s 4.20pm somewhere, right?) – the International Church of Cannabis opened its doors with its own chapel, theology and video game arcade.
From the outside all appears normal: red-brick towers, blocky turrets, a classic city church in an otherwise leafy suburb of Denver. But there are giveaways. The three front doors and arched window facade have been spray-painted with silver galaxies and bright, happy-face planets. The work of legendary painter and graphic artist Kenny Scharf, who has exhibited in the Whitney and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, it looks more like the backdrop for an illegal 90s rave than your typical parish church. But it’s indicative of the coup that Elevation Ministries, the non-profit company that Steve and Lee co-founded to set up the Church of Cannabis, has managed to pull off.

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Concerning the brave 'pastor for pot': Are facts about his church and denomination relevant?

Concerning the brave 'pastor for pot': Are facts about his church and denomination relevant?

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:

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'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

'God and cannabis': Newspaper offers serious take on church that believes in smoking marijuana

Ever heard of a pot-smoking church?

If you pay attention to the news, such churches seem difficult to miss lately.

When Indiana passed its religious freedom law in 2015, questions — and controversy — arose as to whether the measure would open the legal door to the First Church Of Cannabis.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times gave national coverage to the Stoner Jesus Bible Study in Centennial, Colo.

And most recently, longtime religion writer Greg Garrison of the Birmingham News and Alabama Media Group profiled a pro-marijuana church (as part of a series on marijuana in that Bible Belt state):

With a stained-glass window behind them, a lineup of speakers stepped to the front of the church and talked about the potential health benefits of legalizing plants that are currently outlawed in Alabama.
"I smoke cannabis on a daily basis for my pain," said Janice Rushing, president of the Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light in Alabama. "If I did not, I'd be on pain pills."
Her husband, Christopher Rushing, chief executive officer of Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light, says he also uses marijuana routinely.
The Rushings founded the Oklevueha Church in 2015 and claim that it has a legal exemption for its members to smoke marijuana and ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote cactus.
At a January forum with an audience of about 30 gathered at Unity Church in Birmingham, which allowed the use of its facilities, speakers discussed the potential benefits of marijuana and other substances for medicinal purposes.
"I had an ungodly facial rash," said Sherrie Saunders, a former U.S. Army medic who is now a member of Oklevueha Native American Church in Alabama.
"We made a cream that completely got rid of that rash," Mrs. Rushing said.
Someone in the audience discussed a heart problem and sleep apnea.
"That could be something that cannabis could help," Saunders said.

Kudos to Garrison for a solid piece of reporting on — believe it or not — "God and cannabis."

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

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:

Donna Trump accidentally put money in the Communion plate at a church in Iowa 

Later, I came across this weekend story from the Los Angeles Times:

The creed includes weed for these Colorado Christians

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 (if only momentarily) and remind all of us (mainly myself) of the role of a journalist — specifically one writing about religion:

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Weed in Denver, but Easter news on other front pages

If you live in the Mile High City (no pun intended), you woke up Sunday morning to this banner headline on your hometown paper’s front page: Another Colorado newspaper had a much better week than the Post — and not just because it won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. The Colorado Springs Gazette, edited my my friend and former colleague Joe Hight, filled up two-thirds of its Sunday front page with this headline:

Yes, the Gazette published a major religion story — and not a marijuana tourism piece — on its Easter front page:

The road to Chimayo, N.M. is long and tiring during the Christian holy week leading up to Easter.

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