Will Baptists support a free press, a prophetic critique?

I’m worried about the answer. I’m worried about the consequences of that answer for a faithful Baptist community.

Twenty-five years ago, Southern Baptists had a vigorous press. Baptist state newspaper editors were watchdogs who brooked no agency flimflams. They wrote tough news stories—stories that disrupted the comfortable bureaucracies and challenged convention shenanigans. They believed that Baptists had the right to know. So, they told the truth and trusted the people.

These newspapers did more than news stories, however. Their editors served as the conscience of a people, calling them to the high moral agenda of the Bible. They were “prophets with pens,” to borrow the book title of the history of the Texas Baptist Standard. They raised knotty questions, critiqued culture, bore the blows of reactionary readers and withstood the funding threats from state convention executive directors who wanted a compliant press.

These editors include Daley, Brymer, Puckett, Pentecost, Harwell, Wood, Druin and a host of others.

Fundamentalists loathed them, hating the autonomy of a free press and a prophetic critique. The vibrant Baptist press began a steady slide into decline when Paul Pressler got the SBC Executive Committee to fire Dan Martin and Al Shackleford, the top editors of Baptist Press, for reasons never released, but widely speculated as a political vendetta.

Opposition to a free press and a prophetic critique was not limited to fundamentalists, however. A good number of state convention executive directors distrusted editors and disliked no-spin news stories, wanting a submissive press that never questioned, never pushed for change and never took progressive stands.

The multiplicity of free and prophetic voices has all but disappeared. Baptist Press is more of a public-relations arm of the SBC than a hard-hitting news service. With two or three exceptions, Baptist state papers have lost their autonomy and forfeited their heritage.

If a free press and a prophetic critique wash completely away, Baptists of all stripes will be impoverished. Press releases will masquerade as news stories. Power will consolidate in the hands of a very few, pious decision makers who will say “just trust me.” Accountability will vanish as laity and discerning clergy are left with little information about what institutions and denominations are really doing with their contributions. Prophetic religion will give way to culturally affirming religion. Nothing good will result from the loss of a free press and prophetic critique. Every entity, everybody, loses in the long run.

EthicsDaily.com remains one of the bulwarks for a free press and a prophetic critique.

EthicsDaily.com has a proven record of first-rate news stories. We’ve carried probing news articles about Southern Baptist fundamentalists and moderates, stories that others ignored or glossed over. We’ve repeatedly broken stories, covering them with contextual depth and Internet speed.

Make no mistake, Bob Allen, our managing editor, has emerged at the front of the line of Baptist journalists.

EthicsDaily.com also has a proven record of prophetic columns—columns that take on the religious right, critique the war in Iraq, advocate social justice for the poor and advance a high wall of separation between church and state.

Our regular columnists are among the best in religious life—De La Torre, Evans and Towery, to name three. Additionally, our site pushes to the forefront the most insightful of Baptist blogs, the one written by Bruce Prescott.

Within the past year, we’ve had 85 different columnists contribute material, not counting BCE staff. A growing number of writers are Baptists outside the United States.

Simply put, EthicsDaily.com is the premier Baptist Web site ensuring a free press and a prophetic critique. We have built an Internet platform to which a growing number of folk turn for straight answers, timely information. In fact, our Web traffic was over 37 percent higher in August 2005 than August 2004.

We have a lot for which to be gratefully proud. At the same time, we do earnestly wonder, maybe worry, if Baptists will support a free press, a prophetic critique.

We think the answer depends on the depth of support from individuals, the readers of EthicsDaily.com.

If you believe in a free press, a prophetic critique, we need your financial support.

Please consider the value you derive from EthicsDaily.com, a free resource with high-quality information, a Web site read by daily journalists, congressional staffers, college presidents, pastors, professors, parents of teenage children, and students.

Consider the value that EthicsDaily.com offers to the global community—no-spin, timely news and prophetic columns.

Ensure the existence of a vigorous press, one that delivers fresh material five days a week.

If you value a free press, a prophetic critique, click here to make an online contribution. If you would prefer to mail a check, click here and scroll toward the bottom of the page for our address.

Speaking for the staff and hopefully our many contributing writers, accept our grateful thanks for the opportunity and privilege to serve a discerning readership.

May we always be found faithful to the highest standards of a free press and a prophetic critique.

Robert Parham is executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics.

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