This month marks 40 years since founding editor Walker Knight and his associate Susan Taylor, along with a horde of volunteers at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia, rolled out the first edition of what was then called SBC Today.
As a young campus minister reading that inaugural issue and the ones that followed, I never imagined becoming the publication’s editor. However, much more than my own career redirection has changed during the past four decades.
In the 1990s, the broadening coverage of the issues and events impacting those who identify as Baptist — but not fundamentalist — led then-editor Jack U. Harwell and his directors to rename the newspaper, Baptists Today. And the changes kept coming.
My 23-year editorship has occurred at the dizzying intersection of a rapid and continually shifting culture (religiously and at large) and fast-changing technology that impacts the delivery of information and much more.
Between my election to the editorship in late 1999 and the beginning of service on Feb. 1, 2000, I attended a meeting in Hawaii. Arriving at the Honolulu airport, I walked briskly to baggage claim beside another passenger who was also traveling alone.
Walking stride in stride, I recognized him to be golfer Larry Mize, and invited myself to his home in Columbus, Georgia, to interview the 1987 Masters champion. He was gracious, and we reconnected upon returning home.
That cover story appeared in the April 2000 issue — the first I oversaw. It was the beginning of my engaging a wide spectrum of persons in order to share their lives and perspectives with readers.
Such conversations and resulting writings have been memorable. A few among many come to mind: Gardner Taylor, Will Campbell, Fred Shuttlesworth, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, John Claypool, Barbara Brown Taylor.
Not all interviewees were highly recognizable names, but they were no less insightful. The afternoon I spent in Wadley, Alabama, with pioneering pastor Ruby Welsh Wilkins rises to the top.
And interviews that turned into friendships — like with civil rights bridge builder Albert Brinson and songwriter Pat Terry — are well appreciated.
In recent months, I’ve turned every page in the 40-year history of this publication. It was striking to see the depth, breadth and evolution of its coverage.
In addition to the physical changes leading to a full-color, magazine format, the content focus has shifted from denominational news to exploring issues of importance to individuals and congregations seeking to follow Jesus faithfully in times of rapid change.
The publication started as an independent, national newspaper to provide unrestricted coverage of the battle within the Southern Baptist Convention — which the fundamentalists won. The newspaper, in tabloid format, was offered monthly or twice-monthly — often determined by available funds.
In fact, the survival of this autonomous venture has never been a given — and has continued only because of the often-sacrificial support of those who value its unique role of providing truth through editorial freedom. Thank you!
While retaining its independence, valued relationships developed. Today, we publish books in collaboration with the Alliance of Baptists, an organization formed in 1987, which at the time provided subscriptions to all of its growing membership.
Relationships with the broader Baptist family continued with the emergence of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the early ’90s — and other organizations and movements such as the multi-fellowship New Baptist Covenant gathering in 2008.
This publication tracks historically alongside the rise and devastating effects of the religious right, which brought its authoritarianism and discrimination to the religious and political forefront.
Addressing ethical issues — like hunger, war (nuclear proliferation), gender equality, homelessness, abortion, AIDS, LGBTQ justice, earth care, racism, sex abuse and church-state relations — is a thread that runs throughout the decades of publishing.
Realizing that the issues facing thoughtful Christians today are not defined by denominational labels, the moniker Nurturing Faith Journal (which already identified the Nurturing Faith Bible Studies) seemed more accurate and welcoming.
This renaming coincided with an ongoing shift from focusing on Baptist institutional life to thoughtfully exploring timely issues and impactful trends — while providing needed resources.
As online news delivery increased, so did the journal’s shift to providing more analysis, features and other less time-sensitive original content. More than 90% of the content in every issue now can be found nowhere else.
Trusted colleagues have shared this journey — some for many years, like my longtime friends Jackie Riley, Bruce Gourley and Tony Cartledge. Others have shared their gifts along the way and an enlarged team was formed with the creation of Good Faith Media.
More than once, Walker Knight gifted me with the affirmation that he saw the evolution of this publication with the pride of a parent watching a child grow up to do well.
When honored for his overall service long after his retirement, Walker said, “May this be a publication that continues to bring light in dark places.”
Let it be.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.