Just how should we report Baptist news?

    May 30, 2018

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    Call me old school but as a journalist I believe information and communication are important aspects of our Baptist faith.

    Historically Baptists have had a desire to be informed so they can make important decisions about the work of their denomination.

    What’s more being in the news trade for many years – first as a secular journalist and now as a religious journalist – I know that you don’t always report everything you know.
    Why? As a secular journalist I knew there was always someone out for someone else and someone willing to throw dirt.

    Does that mean that it is news? It depends.

    If it is about the mayor taking a bribe from a city contractor yes. If it is about someone who has a personal disdain for the mayor of course not.

    For the most part journalists honor this principle as they report goings-on of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) their respective state conventions associations and churches. There are exceptions of course but that goes without saying.

    For example the team at the Arkansas Baptist News (ABN) is always looking for “good news” stories that build up the body of Christ.

    However there are also those times when we have the obligation to inform – even when it is unpleasant.

    Recent news stories about allegations against and the subsequent dismissal of Paige Patterson as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (see related story page 3) are an example.

    As editor I believe it is important for Arkansas Baptists to know and understand how one of their seminaries – which has received millions of dollars from Arkansas Baptists over the years – is being impacted by the Patterson situation.

    Very little has been said in the press – including in the ABN – about the dramatic decline in enrollment the seminary has experienced in recent years.

    Just as the old joke says “Where you have two Baptists you have three opinions” it is often hard to make everyone happy when it comes to reporting about the work of our denomination.

    But whether it be a seminary president leader of the convention the pastor of a local church ... or for that matter the editor of the state Baptist newspaper – with authority comes responsibility and accountability.

    Southern Baptists don’t want to become a “yes” people who blindly follow their leaders off a cliff. It is important to trust but at the same time to hold those in power accountable to the rank-and-file Baptists who drop their hard-earned dollars in the offering plate to see the message of the gospel carried throughout the world.

    It is saddening to me how the witness of Southern Baptists has been damaged in the past few months by all the upheaval of recent events.

    Southern Baptists are generally good and decent people who want to see that everyone has the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

    By and large our churches are small congregational conservative and really don’t like to raise their hands in worship – but that doesn’t mean we are not spiritual.

    For a privileged few we have the opportunity in June to see the SBC in action during our annual meeting in Dallas.

    There will be important business to undertake and resolutions to consider that express our convictions.

    My hope and prayer are that the distractions of recent months will be held to a minimum so the work of Christ may be properly celebrated and carried out. Messengers unaware of the inter-workings of their denomination cannot cast important votes on important issues that have eternal consequences.

    Tim Yarbrough is editor/executive director of the ABN.