News Articles

Conservative Missouri groups issue challenge to state paper

ST. LOUIS (BP)–Two groups of Baptist conservatives in Missouri have charged the state’s Baptist paper, Word & Way, with “willful and intentional suppression of selective news and information” involving the conservative groups’ contentions of liberalism in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.
The charges were aired in a Sept. 8 news release faxed by the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Missouri to state Baptist papers, Baptist Press, Associated Baptist Press and the president of the Association of State Baptist Papers, Michael McCullough, editor of the Nevada Baptist paper.
Cited in the news release were current Word & Way editor Bill Webb and former editor Bob Terry, who led the paper for 20 years until 1995 when he became editor of The Alabama Baptist newsjournal.
“It has become evident that under the current leadership of Bill Webb, Word & Way will continue in the tradition of its former editor Bob Terry in the selective suppression of news and information that puts ‘moderate’ organizations, like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist Joint Committee, in an unfavorable light,” Roger Moran, research director of Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, stated in the news release.
MBLA President Kerry Messer contended, “The strength of the moderate movement in Missouri is in large degree the direct result of Word & Way’s refusal to deal with the multitude of issues and concerns that have been raised about various ‘moderate’ organizations.”
Chuck Williams, president of SBC Missouri and pastor of First Baptist Church, Washington, Mo., meanwhile contended: “The strong editorial bias of Word & Way favoring moderate Baptist organizations coupled with the near blackout of news and information exposing the blatant liberalism that has found a home within those same organizations has created an atmosphere of frustration among many Missouri Baptists.”
The MBLA/SBC Missouri news release broadened its concerns to other states, citing a recent recommendation by a Baptist General Convention of Texas study committee for expanded BGCT ties beyond the SBC to the CBF and other Baptist bodies.
The news release continued: “… because it has become increasingly clear that the CBF has focused its attention on Southern Baptist state conventions, Missouri Baptists need to know the whole CBF story. When controversy exists, Baptist have a right to know the whole story — whether conservatives, moderates or liberals are involved.”
Webb, who became Word & Way editor in March 1996 after 11 years as editor of the Illinois Baptist, said by telephone Sept. 10, “I personally cannot respond to concerns about what was printed or not printed in Word & Way before I became editor. However, my impression is that Word & Way through the years has been highly regarded in the areas of fairness and balance and, in general, journalistic integrity.
“My own goal as a Baptist journalist has certainly been to function with fairness,” Webb said. “Any Baptist has a right to hold an opinion and a right to disseminate information, but by the same token, as editor I have a responsibility to determine what appears on the pages of Word & Way. There are a number of organizations and individuals who week in and week out would like for us to present their information. My responsibility is to work through those requests and present material to our readers that best serves their interests and best meets their needs. One thing I take into the account is the way in which material is presented. It must meet fairness standards that have marked the newspaper over the years.”
Terry, in a response by telephone Sept. 9, said he had begun his work in Alabama prior to when various MBLA materials were circulated the past two years. Previously, he said, he had received various submissions from Moran.
“In my judgment, the articles were not appropriate,” Terry said. “As editor, I exercised my role to make sure that issues were presented in a fair and balanced way. If there were questionable calls, … I would share the decisions with the governing body of the state Baptist paper, and the decisions were affirmed.”
In exercising a responsibility for fairness and balance, Terry said, “Sometimes that means publishing material,” while, “Sometimes the only way to keep issues in a fair and balanced perspective is to decline to publish submitted articles.”
The news release quoted part of a 1990 editorial by Terry: “The biblical doctrine of the personal priesthood of each believer necessitates a free press for Southern Baptists. Only as members have access to the full, free flow of news and information about their convention can Baptists make appropriate and necessary decisions about the Lord’s work. Anything else turns believers into pawns manipulated by powerbrokers who let Baptists read only those things they want Baptists to know.”
Terry stated: “I believe what I wrote in the editorial. I live by the principles outlined there.” And he cited a 1995 resolution adopted by the Missouri convention voicing appreciation “for the fair, timely, ethical, practical and professional leadership” he provided the paper.
The MBLA/Missouri news release noted that an advertisement it had prepared had been rejected by Word & Way for publication. The ad, titled “The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship: Serious Questions For Serious Consideration,” included 14 examples of alleged liberalism tolerated within the CBF, an organization of moderate Southern Baptists opposed to Southern Baptist Convention leadership. Nine examples focus on specific individuals, including James Dunn, BJC executive director, and R. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University, a Georgia Baptist-affiliated college with campuses in Macon and Atlanta.
Webb said he reviewed the ad and decided it was “potentially libelous in the way the information was presented … a bit of innuendo, guilt by association.” The committee which oversees Word & Way, which is part of the Missouri convention’s executive board, discussed the paper’s advertising practices in early July and Webb said the committee felt he should be careful “not to accept ads that I feel could be construed as hostile toward any Missouri Baptist Convention group or individual. Thus, I felt that it would not be appropriate to accept that ad.”
The main text of the MBLA/Missouri SBC ad contends the CBF’s “willingness to accommodate blatant theological liberalism and its openness to those who hold extreme positions on such issues as abortion, pornography and homosexuality should cause grave concern.”
Citing the CBF slogan of “free and faithful Baptists,” for example, the MBLA/Missouri SBC ad asks: “… if one is ‘faithful’ to verbally profess ‘Jesus is Lord,’ is he then ‘free’ to deny His deity, His virgin birth, His sacrificial death or His substitutionary atonement?” The text’s footnote cites the section under Godsey’s name, mentioning the Mercer University president’s recent book, “When We Talk About God … Let’s Be Honest,” which a Georgia Baptist Convention study committee found to contain heresy-level views. The ad notes Godsey was a member of the CBF Coordinating Council from 1991-93 and his book was published by CBF-backed publishing house Smyth & Helwys. Mercer’s Atlanta campus also houses the CBF’s national headquarters.
To support their contention that Word & Way had suppressed their point of view, the MBLA/Missouri SBC news release listed a number of junctures when the paper had chosen against reporting on MBLA-related materials:
— Two Baptist Press stories in June 1995 citing research initiated by Moran on the Baptist Joint Committee’s role in a political training manual titled, “How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community.”
— Two Baptist Press stories in January 1996 citing research by Moran challenging the theology of portions of the CBF resource, “HIV/AIDS Ministry: Putting A Face On AIDS.”
— A six-page 1995 flyer, “The Bible and Homosexuality: The Rising Conflict Within the Moderate Movement of the Southern Baptist Convention” examining homosexuality-related stances involving the CBF, BJC, Alliance of Baptists, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
— A 12-page 1996 flyer, “Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs: A Closer Look At The Religious Liberty Organization,” examining BJC positions on abortion, homosexuality, pornography, the religious right, the arts, the National Council of Churches, civil religion and humanism. The front page of the flyer quotes BJC director Dunn, in the agency’s Report from the Capital publication in 1991, as asking, “Should we not examine the credentials of (those claiming to speak on behalf of the churches) before swallowing whole their message?”