Baptists Today honored founding editor Walker Knight at its annual “Judson-Rice Award” banquet April 3 in Atlanta.
As Southern Baptist conflict bloomed in the early 1980s, Knight left a secure position at the Home Mission Board (HMB, now North American Mission Board) to begin what was then called SBC Today in 1983. Knight, who had been editor of the popular Home Mission magazine, was known for careful journalism who covered issues like race relations in order to set the cultural context for missions. He told participants that he was often called to the HMB president’s office to explain what a particular article had to do with missions.
Seeing the “writing on the wall,” Knight said, he was receptive to the idea when a group of moderate leaders sometimes called the “Gatlinburg Gang” asked him to consider publishing a new journal to be a voice for moderates confronting the emerging takeover of the SBC by fundamentalist leaders.
With funds raised by that group, along with financial assistance and office space provided by Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Knight led the new journal to offer a “message of hope, openness and enlightenment to counteract the restrictive vision of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC,” he said.
Truett Gannon, emeritus pastor of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, said Knight’s example offered “irrefutable evidence” that people can be incredibly courageous, profoundly altruistic, and fully transparent, describing Knight as “a man with no guile.”
Both Knight and current Baptists Today editor John Pierce paid tribute to Oakhurst Baptist Church for its role in assisting the publication in its early days. Knight said Oakhurst “practically institutionalized risk-taking.” To begin a new ministry challenge, Knight said, Oakhurst required a “yes” answer to three questions: “Is it incredibly good news?” “Is it almost impossible to accomplish?” And, “Is there a good chance it will fail?”
The new journal easily met those criteria, Knight said, and often flirted with failure. “May Baptists Today always be a publication that continues to bring light in dark places,” he said.
[Top Photo: Walker Knight accepts the Judson-Rice Award as editor Johnny Pierce joins participants in a standing ovation. Bottom photo: Oakhust Baptist pastors Melanie Vaughn-West and Lanny Peters accepted a plaque on Oakhurst’s behalf.]