Today a funeral service celebrates the life of J. Marse Grant, who died October 17 after a long period of declining health. Grant was 88. Despite suffering from diabetes most of his adult life, he controlled it with a careful diet and managed to become one of Baptist life’s most accomplished editors.
When Grant became editor of Charity and Children, a publication of the North Carolina Baptist Children’s Homes, in 1949, it was mainly a promotional tool for the children’s homes. Grant quickly turned it into an influential source of information and opinion about a wider spectrum of issues, building the circulation and writing such stirring editorials that he gained quite a following in the state. When the editorship of the Biblical Recorder, the Baptist State Convention‘s news journal, came open in 1959, Grant was a natural fit.
Grant led the Recorder until 1982, longer than any other editor. He was fortunate to serve during the heydey of Baptist life, at a time when Baptist churches were growing rapidly, and Baptist people were (for the most part) getting along well and proud to be Baptist. Under Grant’s leadership, the paper’s circulation swelled to a peak of 120,000 in 1979.
Grant was committed to being a player, not just among Baptists, but in North Carolina life. His influence was felt, not just in Baptist homes that received the Recorder and the hundreds of Baptist churches in which he spoke, but in the N.C. legislature, where he was a frequent visitor, twisting the arms of legislators on issues such as alcohol sales and drunking driving.
Grant was a moderate before most folks knew what that meant. He saw trouble ahead when the fundamentalist branch of the Baptist family sought and gained control, and opined against a doctrinnaire approach to Baptist life and governance.
He did more than express opinions, however. Grant and his indefatigable wife, Marian, ran a travel business called “Grant Tours” on the side, an effort that continued long after he retired form the Recorder. One of their major projects was to put together tour packages to each year’s Southern Baptist Convention. As a young pastor, I traveled with them more than once, and some friendships I enjoy today originated as assigned roomates on trips to SBC conventions in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
When I served as editor of the Recorder, Grant would send me the occasional letter — always typed, then edited with a pencil, then faxed. He remained clear-minded and strong-willed long after his body grew too weak to keep up with him.
Grant was an icon, not only among N.C. Baptists, but also in the journalistic fraternity of other Baptist papers. More than an icon, however, Grant was a true friend to authentic Baptists, and we will miss him.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.