EDITOR’S JOURNAL: Baptist journalism, Is there a future?
The joke du jour about newspapers: When the mafia wants to send a death threat, they used to wrap a dead fish in newspaper. Now, they only send a newspaper. Journalism as a sector of American society is slowly decaying before the eyes of a disinterested public. The rise of social media has rendered traditional news outlets and magazines obsolete, resulting in the widespread layoffs of reporters and publishers scrambling to stop the bleeding of their once mighty media empires.
The blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter have changed traditional news outlets into antiques almost overnight. Stories which might have broken in days now break in minutes. Ordinary citizens do far more reporting in mere seconds than many journalists do in a week. This sociological development has brought with it some pitfalls. Bloggers are normally fearless. Able to write and self-publish in a matter of moments, entire corporations and personal reputations have been damaged by inaccurate reporting. Whereas a journalist could be held personally and professionally liable, many who self-publish have little accountability and can remain anonymous.
From the very start, however, newspapers have played a key role in the theological formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. Each state convention sought to establish an organ of communication which would inform, educate, inspire, and even debate controversial issues through the forum the paper provided. Some of Southern Baptists’ greatest theologians and statesmen held the editorships of state Baptist papers. Jesse Mercer (The Christian Index, Ga.), James Petigru Boyce (The Southern Baptist, S.C.), J.B. Jeter (The Religious Herald, Va.), J.B. Gambrell (The Baptist Standard, Texas), R.B.C Howell (Baptist and Reflector, Tenn.) and Thomas Meredith (The Biblical Recorder, N.C.) were but a few of the leading writers and thinkers who helped shape Southern Baptist theology, polity and ecclesiology during the formative years of Baptists in the South.
Over time, Baptist newspapers somewhat deviated from their original purpose of service to local churches toward a more progressive practice of opinion journalism void of a theological worldview which kept them grounded in the practical realities of church life. Through the years, the creeping tides of modern life slowly choked out any semblance of a gospel-centered publication where the challenges of modern life and thought were carefully reported in ways which examined the key facts hidden behind the veil of political and societal diversions. The result has been that new forms of communication now dominate the Southern Baptist landscape, leaving some state papers far behind the curve of access and real help to the average Southern Baptist.
The future for state papers cannot simply be a technological change where the same sort of information is communicated in ways mimicked by the latest journalistic fads of the media industry. Words and language matter and must be shared in compelling ways so as to aid in the formulation of a Christian worldview. Such a goal must combine the best entrepreneurial insights of many of the latest media strategies; compelling content which is readable and useful to pastors, church leaders and local congregations; and examination into the current cultural malaise which has rendered the Western world (and the United States in particular) a mission field in a post-Christian era. To accomplish such a massive feat, the end must inform the beginning.
The Baptist Messenger must execute the duties assigned to it by the churches of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma from a proper understanding of Christian orthodoxy. In the life of every believer, and in the church, the Lord Jesus Christ still rules by his Word. People become Christians when they hear and respond in faith to the message of the Gospel (John 5:24; Rom. 10:17; Eph. 1:13; James 1:18; I Peter 1:23). True Christians are those who abide in the Word of Jesus (Matt. 4:4; John 8:31). Holy Scripture is living and active and able to make Christians wise for salvation. Fully able to equip the people of God for every good work, the Word of God alone is the means whereby all thoughts and motives are exposed and examined under the light of truth.
No amount of news writing or carefully worded editorials can substitute for the preaching and teaching of the Word of God in the context of a local congregation. What a state paper can do (and indeed must do), however, is provide the news, resources, clarity, ideas, encouragement, examination and explanation of God’s Word and God’s world which could, by God’s grace, help the paper become a trusted partner in the work of ministry to the glory of God.
For almost 100 years, the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger has endeavored to engage the church and the world with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The paper must once again reaffirm her commitment to the Word of God and the local churches she serves, even as each issue seeks to maximize every opportunity for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Soli Deo Gloria