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FIRST-PERSON: How does Baptist Press decide on political coverage?

U.S. Capitol (Baptist Press file photo)

Editor’s note: Baptist Press strives to have consistent protocols for our reporting as well as a ready answer for anyone who asks us to explain why or how we covered a certain story. Through the most recent election season, we were asked a few times to explain our decision-making when it comes to political and public policy coverage. We decided to wait until after mid-term election cycle to publish our explanation. Here’s our attempt.

NASHVILLE (BP) – As Baptist Press seeks to be a trusted source of news and analysis for Southern Baptists, we spend much time discussing the public policy stories that we publish. Our desire to report accurately, faithfully and fairly runs deep.

As Barrett Duke wrote in a piece marking BP’s 75th anniversary in 2021, “There aren’t that many means to get what we would consider to be a concise and balanced understanding of the issues that Southern Baptists are dealing with,” he said. “But we feel like we can trust Baptist Press to help us know what Southern Baptists are thinking about and what they’re talking about.”

So, how do we decide on which policy issues we should cover?

First, one of the primary guidelines given to Baptist Press is to cooperate with the SBC entities. We count our relationship with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission as one of our closest. Not only are they one of the closest in physical proximity, one floor away in the SBC building in Nashville, but we are also in daily dialogue with reporter Tom Strode and other key leaders from the ERLC since they are dealing most directly with matters of public policy and current events.

In addition, we are guided by the Baptist Faith and Message, the statement of faith adopted and affirmed repeatedly by messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention. It speaks clearly to continually relevant topics such as racism, marriage, abortion, the family, homosexuality, caring for the poor, caring for orphans and much more.

The following excerpts are from articles in the BF&M that have direct relevance to current public policy issues:

  • Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xv
  • Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xv
  • It is the duty of Christians to seek peace with all men on principles of righteousness. In accordance with the spirit and teachings of Christ they should do all in their power to put an end to war. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xvi
  • Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xvii
  • God has ordained the family as the foundational institution of human society. It is composed of persons related to one another by marriage, blood, or adoption. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xviii
  • Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xviii
  • The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God’s image. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xviii
  • Children, from the moment of conception, are a blessing and heritage from the Lord. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xviii
  • Parents are to teach their children spiritual and moral values and to lead them, through consistent lifestyle example and loving discipline, to make choices based on biblical truth. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xviii
  • Children are to honor and obey their parents. https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#xviii

We also pay close attention to the resolutions passed by messengers at the SBC annual meeting. These resolutions not only inform us of what is important to messengers, but also the opinion of the majority of messengers on a subject.

Consider the stories on the genocide of the Uyghur people, the stance of Southern Baptists related to the role of women in the Armed Forces or the forced conversion of Native Americans. The BP stories written on these subjects were directly influenced by resolutions passed by messengers.

At this point, we come to a fork in the road. Public policy must be developed, written, lobbied for, voted on and enacted. The United States is a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people.” There are thousands of people involved in our government, yet, it is our goal to avoid making people the central focus of our policy stories.

Obviously, this cannot be avoided, but we can write about political issues without endorsing or speaking negatively of the politician. In fact, our goal is to make the policy the focal point of the story, not the politician.

Along the same lines, we try to write stories about an administration rather than an individual leader. For instance, when we write about President Biden, we try to focus the story on the Biden administration rather than on Joe Biden. There are times when this is impossible, but it is our aim.

But what about the fact that we quoted Sen. Mitch McConnell’s reaction to a policy from the Biden administration? Keep in mind, Sen. McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader. In essence, in this scenario, he is speaking for Republicans. That is why we quote him rather than another senator who is not in a leadership position in his party.

Having said all of this, I certainly understand there are times when we may not always be consistent with this philosophy. I don’t think my kids ever threw spaghetti on the wall, but I’m pretty sure they tried to apply some Jell-O. That’s the way news coverage is sometimes when it comes to our intentions. We try, but sometimes our practice falls short.

However, a promise we intend to keep is that we will avoid making personal attacks or writing so-called hit pieces against political leaders.

The last guideline given to Baptist Press says, “All who serve in the Baptist Press system will keep in mind that to achieve its ultimate purpose, the news service must be both highly professional in its journalistic function and highly useful as one specialized means employed in the broad denominational effort to bring all persons to God through Jesus Christ.”

We are mindful that we have a high King (Matthew 18:36) and all authority (Matthew 28:18) has been given to Him. And in our reporting, we are sober-minded knowing the we will give an account (Matthew 12:36) for every word.

    About the Author

  • Brandon Porter

    Brandon Porter serves as Associate Vice President for Convention News at the SBC Executive Committee

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