Saturday, April 18, 2015

Baptist News Global/Associated Baptist Press: from painful birth to faithful service

Congratulations to David Wilkinson and Baptist News Global 's staff and Board of Directors as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of Associated Baptist Press in Nashville on Monday.

We Baptists must always be cognizant of the critical importance of a free and independent Baptist press. To be free and faithful Baptists, we must be informed Baptists.

It's important to remember the circumstances leading to the forming of Associated Baptist Press. The June 1990 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans was the culmination of a long battle, lasting for over a decade, for control of the Convention. The irony was that only one side wanted control.

One side wanted control, and the other side sought to cooperate. It takes two to cooperate but only one to control, so the inevitable happened . . . control won out.

Once they were firmly in control of the Convention's machinery, the next act of the Fundamentalists was almost just as inevitable. They took control of the press room. Baptist Press had long been the respected journalistic arm of the SBC . . . the arm but never the footman. Throughout the battle between Fundamentalists and Moderates, the top editors of Baptist Press - Al Shackleford and Dan Martin, and Wilmer C. Fields before them - had carried out their mission as journalists with integrity and courage, telling Baptists the truth , , , the facts . . . and letting the reader be the judge of just what all of it meant.

Unfortunately for the Fundamentalists, despite their 'victory,' the truth was too often uncomfortable for them, shining light on actions that were less than honest and less than Christian.

So, barely a month after solidifying their control, they fired Shackleford and Martin. The 25th anniversary of Associated Baptist Press is a proud one, one that we celebrate. But it follows, in short order, the 25th anniversary of the sad day that the SBC's Baptist Press became nothing more than a submissive (a word that has become even more dear to the SBC than 'inerrancy') house organ, repeating the party line fed to it by the SBC leadership.

Stan Hastey, in The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement (Mercer University Press, 1993), edited by Walter B. Shurden, tells the story of the founding of Associated Baptist Press. Hastey recounts the years of harrassment endured by Shackleford and Martin, as well as W. C. Fields, previous director of Baptist Press, at the hands of Fundamentalists.

Hastey writes that the SBC Executive Committee demanded, on the Tuesday following the June annual meeting in New Orleans, that Shackleford and Martin resign, but they refused. The firing that followed a few weeks later had become a mere formality. At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on July 7, a group of Baptist editors met and "conceived Associated Baptist Press. This group, Hastey writes, consisted of "Bob S. Terry (editor of Missouri's Word and Way), Don McGregor (editor of Mississippi's Baptist Record), Julian Pentecost (editor of Virginia's Religious Herald), R. G. Puckett (editor of North Carolina's Biblical Recorder), Robert Allen (editor of Maryland/Delaware's Baptist True Union), E. Marvin Knox (editor of Kentucky's Western Recorder), and Jack Brymer (editor of the Florida Baptist Witness)."

That was where it began . . . faithful Baptist journalists who recognized that the old Baptist Press was gone and that a new, free and independent, Baptist news service was needed.

Thanks be to God, happy anniversary, and blessings on Baptist News Global - and your journalistic partners - as you continue to keep free and faithful Baptists informed.