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Southwestern files protest, removes Texas paper from campus

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has removed a Texas Baptist newspaper from its campus and filed a formal grievance against the paper and its managing editor.

The Fort Worth, Texas, seminary took the actions in response to controversial coverage by the Baptist Standard over the recent retirement announcement of Southwestern President Ken Hemphill.

In the Standard’s April 21 edition, managing editor Mark Wingfield reported that Southern Baptist Convention officials and seminary trustees had called Hemphill to meetings in recent years and demanded that he resign or be fired. Hemphill, in a letter to the editor in the Standard’s April 28 edition, stated that the reports were incorrect and that he had never been contacted to verify the truth of the allegations. The Standard, in an editor’s note at the end of Hemphill’s statements, said it stands by its story.

For years, the seminary placed stacks of the Standard, which is owned by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, on its campus.

Southwestern’s director of public relations, David Porter, had the stacks removed May 1 after the editorial rebuttal, “which implicitly called Hemphill a liar,” Porter said. He said he made the difficult decision to remove the paper on his own, not at Hemphill’s direction.

“For years, the Baptist Standard has reduced its positive coverage of Southwestern Seminary and increasingly pushed its anti-Southwestern Seminary, anti-SBC agenda, but in the spirit of cooperation, we continued to make the newspaper available because of the historic connection between Southwestern and the Standard,” Porter said. “However, the Standard’s recent coverage of Southwestern is injurious to the seminary community and cannot be accommodated. Further, such coverage will no longer be promoted by making the newspaper available to the seminary community.”

In a letter dated May 8, Porter and Craig Blaising, Southwestern’s executive vice president, provost and dean of the school of theology, filed a grievance with Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector and president of the Association of State Baptist Papers, which is made up of the editors of the state Baptist newspapers. The letter asked the organization to investigate the Standard’s coverage in light of the ASBP’s Statement of Principles and to censure Wingfield and the Standard.

The letter states, “We are writing to formally protest inaccuracies and misrepresentations recently published in the Baptist Standard. Managing editor Mark Wingfield’s unethical news story on supposed reasons behind Ken Hemphill’s retirement, as well as editorial comments placed at the end of Dr. Hemphill’s letter to the editor, are clear examples of irresponsible journalism. The Standard’s coverage on this matter did not meet the high standards and guiding principles which the ASBP has set for its members to follow and the Standard has accepted as a member of the ASBP.

“The complete reliance on unnamed sources and the fact that Dr. Hemphill was not given an opportunity to challenge their allegations are breaches of journalistic integrity, something we deserve in Baptist life. Wingfield’s decision to present conjecture and speculation as confirmed fact – again without even calling Dr. Hemphill to validate the accuracy of these claims – should not be countenanced in Baptist life, especially among the ministry of our state Baptist papers.

“Dr. Hemphill’s letter to the editor was published as an opinion piece and then was followed by an editor’s response which implicitly called Dr. Hemphill a liar. We believe the charges and the editorial response border on libel.”

Marv Knox, editor of the Standard, was away from his office May 12, according to a message on his voice mail.

When Hemphill went to Southwestern in 1994, the Standard had been removed from campus. Hemphill reversed that decision when he arrived because, he said, he didn’t want to add to its credibility by making it appear that the seminary was censoring negative coverage.

Porter said that should not be the case this time.

“I think we have made every effort to be at peace with all men, as Paul said in Romans 12:18. And I know you aren’t supposed to pick a fight with the man who buys printer’s ink by the barrel, but enough is enough,” Porter said. “It’s a free country. If students and others related to the seminary want the Standard, they can go online or they can subscribe. The seminary, however, will no longer be party to the distribution of faulty, biased information about the seminary and the denomination. The seminary has decided, instead, to make the Southern Baptist Texan available.”

The Texan is the newsjournal of the new Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which is supportive of the SBC and its seminaries and other entities.

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