Baptist Press in recent months has published numerous stories touching on homosexuality—from support for a Federal Marriage Amendment, to criticism of “activist” judges, to the Senate filibuster, to the role of religious conservatives in re-electing President Bush.
But the SBC’s official news service has been noticeably silent about an issue that could be discussed at the convention’s annual meeting less than two weeks away: a resolution calling for Southern Baptist churches to investigate whether their local school districts have curricula, programs or clubs that send the message to children that homosexuality is OK.
The resolution is proposed by Voddie Baucham, a black Southern Baptist and popular author and preacher, and Bruce Shortt, a Christian-education advocate who co-sponsored a more strident resolution last year. It advocated a mass exodus from public schools deemed “officially Godless” and “anti-Christian” but failed to make it out of a committee.
The Baucham-Shortt resolution has been widely reported in both religious and secular media, including a story in the Associated Press, which appeared in numerous places around the nation, and a mention in Thursday’s New York Times, but not in Baptist Press.
The conservative Southern Baptist Texan carried a story about the resolution, which was picked up by at least one other Baptist state paper. Gary Ledbetter, the Southern Baptist Texan’s editor, is a member of this year’s SBC Resolutions Committee.
But BP, established in 1946 as sort of an Associated Press for Baptist newspapers, has judiciously avoided any mention of it.
As recently as this week, BP passed up an opportunity.
Larry Reagan, editor of Concerned Tennessee Baptist and pastor of Adams Chapel Baptist Church in Dresden, Tenn., is listed as a contact person for Exodus Mandate, an organization that supports the Baucham-Shortt resolution on its Web site.
Last Friday Reagan e-mailed Baptist Press director Will Hall requesting coverage of the “continual liberal drift” of public education and emergence of home and Christian schools in response. Hall responded on Monday that BP was planning a story on the influence of homosexuality in public schools, but it would not address the Baucham-Shortt proposal.
The story, “Are public schools the next battleground over homosexuality?” appeared in BP June 7, as predicted, without mention of the proposed SBC resolution.
Baptist Press published a “first person” column May 19 on “teaching homosexuality in our schools,” by Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College. But BP edited out a paragraph that appeared on Throckmorton’s Web site. It stated the Southern Baptist Convention “may consider a resolution proposing that churches investigate whether the schools in their town promote homosexual advocacy.”
A keyword search of BPNews.net on Thursday found 1,298 stories including the word “homosexual.” That’s more occurrences than other social issues including abortion (1,154), violence (878), alcohol/drinking (683), abuse (619), hunger (537), drugs (528), pornography/pornographic (421), divorce (386), poverty (342) and tobacco/smoking (164).
Despite such high profile coverage of the topic, Hall told Reagan he was electing “not to pre-empt the work” of the SBC Resolutions Committee, which is charged with receiving resolutions submitted by messengers and deciding which, if any, to recommend for passage.
Last year, faced with an unprecedented wave of pre-convention publicity about Shortt and T.C. Pinckney’s controversial 2004 resolution on Christian education, John Revell of the SBC Executive Committee said convention policy is not to discuss resolutions before their official disposition by the Resolutions Committee.
Last year’s resolution went too far for some SBC leaders, who home-school their own children or send them to Christian schools but don’t want to offend Southern Baptist teachers and administrators who remain committed to public education.
While this year’s resolution tones down some of the anti-school rhetoric, there is evidence it is also creating anxiety at the denomination’s headquarters.
Revell jumped on early coverage of the new Baucham-Shortt resolution, saying this original lead to a story by the American Family Association’s Agape Press was incorrect: “A popular black evangelist is hoping that the new resolution on homosexuality in public schools that he has helped to put before the Southern Baptist Convention will spark a mass exodus of Baptist children from public schools.”
“Actually, at this point, no one knows what resolutions will be presented at the convention,” Revell complained in an e-mail, a copy of which was later obtained by EthicsDaily.com.
“Members of Southern Baptist churches are able to submit proposals to the Resolutions Committee for evaluation, but the committee decides what to present to the Convention for consideration,” he continued. “Dr. Baucham has not coauthored a resolution ‘that he has helped put before the Southern Baptist Convention.’ What Mr. Short and Dr. Baucham have presented is merely a proposal that they hope will make its way through the Resolutions Committee and be presented to the SBC as a proposed resolution.”
Revell’s distinction between “resolutions” and “proposals” isn’t supported by SBC Bylaw 20, which uses the word resolution interchangeably whether submitted by an individual or recommended by the committee for adoption. The bylaw also empowers convention messengers to overrule the committee, and by a two-thirds vote consider any resolution that is properly submitted to the Resolutions Committee.
Still, Agape Press changed its story at his request.
Revell said in his e-mail to Agape Press his reason for asking for a correction was to head off “an avalanche of phone calls from wide-eyed reporters looking for a story that does not exist.”
EthicsDaily.com was one of the first media outlets to report about the Baucham-Shortt resolution and has published several stories about it. The first, which ran May 10, was accompanied by a Baptist Press photo of Baucham, with proper credit.
BP’s photo library is listed among press resources on the SBC Web site, SBC.Net. Baptist Press is supported by the SBC’s unified budget, the Cooperative Program. Baptist state papers subscribe to the service for free.
A May 25 story featuring Baucham ran with another photo, this one credited to Union University, where he has spoken and is an adjunct professor. A Union staff member called June 3 inquiring about the photo. Later that day, Will Hall of Baptist Press e-mailed EthicsDaily.com and said BP photos are copyrighted and we are not authorized to use them.
According to the Associated Press Stylebook, use of copyright material without permission is allowed in some circumstances. Factors for determining “fair use” include the purpose of the use–with news reporting, criticism and comment as favored purposes–and whether the use decreases any potential market value.
Hall assured Reagan that Baptist Press would exercise editorial freedom “if any SBC leader or organization was acting unbiblically, immorally, unethically, unsafely or detrimentally to the spreading of the Gospel.”
However, Hall continued, “This is not the case with regard to the Shortt/Baucham proposal.” The issue rather is “the choice of action” in combating homosexuality in culture. “I trust that SBC leaders will move prayerfully to present the issue fairly at the annual meeting and that messengers will vote as guided by the conviction of the Holy Spirit,” Hall said.
Hall said Christian education “is a very personal issue for me,” and that he sends his son to a church-run school. “Please know that I will continue to promote Christian education,” he said. “But also understand that promoting Christian education and the Shortt/Baucham proposal are not necessarily the same thing.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.