When a minister is criticized for “being too political,” one can be assured the offense is not politics at large, but rather someone’s preferred political allegiance. The same goes for editors and writers.
Though unsurprising, but always disappointing, we lose Nurturing Faith Journal subscribers on occasion due to the charge of being too political. As editor, it is important to take negative feedback constructively – and I do.
There are often better ways of shaping or saying what needs to be stated. But, of course, seeking to please everyone is never a good course.
One cannot take the life, teachings and calling of Jesus seriously – and then take an approach that avoids truth for the sake of comfort.
Due to the historical roots of our publication – that has evolved over 38 years from being known as SBC Today to Baptists Today to Nurturing Faith – there are ties among some older readers to a sense of denominational loss.
It was the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which started in 1978 and reached fruition in the early ’90s, that birthed this autonomous, national news journal and dominated its coverage for many years.
Out of that context, we received a cancellation notice recently, expressing disappointment in the recent “politicization” of the journal. The specific charge was: “Many, if not most, of the articles are more political than theological in nature …”
That someone would find disagreement with some of our varied opinions – or other content – is unsurprising and understood. But it was interesting to note that the departing subscriber wanted to share some personal context as credentials.
This self-identified “longtime reader” since the publication’s beginning expressed clear “disappointment, sadness and concern through the years over the fundamentalist takeover and far-right politicization of our former denomination.”
The charge levied against the journal was one of doing the same thing yet in an opposite way. One example was given, related to a history series.
In pondering this kind but clear charge, I discerned a perspective – a proposition perhaps – that I’d not fully considered before.
It seems there are those (of a particular age and background) who strongly opposed the strong-armed, rightwing takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention but aren’t willing to acknowledge that those same forces have taken over the Republican Party at almost every level.
In fact, the same patterns and even some of the same people have been involved.
For example, earlier leaders of both the SBC and the GOP tried to accommodate rightwing religionists – in hopes of retaining their support – and ended up with them in control. Yet, criticism of one is allowed where criticism of the other is not.
“Stop being political” now means, “Please ignore the realities of how the religious right has captured both a denomination (as well as the broader evangelical movement) and a political party.”
Even a novice historian can trace the beginnings of both takeovers with a few online searches of “W.A. Criswell.” Many other players can be noted as well, with a successive generation of fundamentalist or opportunistic Baptist leaders carrying the ball further down both fields.
Robert Jeffress, for example, is pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, where Criswell’s shadow has long loomed. He is among the highest profile religious leaders who are shaping the GOP in the same narrow ways the SBC was assaulted by another fundamentalist firebrand, Paige Patterson, under Criswell’s tutelage.
Though using more secular language and concepts at times, the issues at the heart of the takeovers of both the denomination and the political party are the same.
These include strict anti-abortion policies, denying equal rights to LGBTQ persons and, ultimately, doing whatever is necessary (whether ethical or not) to protect the privileged status of white, Christian men in the cultural arena.
White Christian nationalists saw the welcome mats rolled out and have set up comfortable homes in both places – the religious and political. And the line between the two is shrinking.
That’s why seminary president Albert Mohler dropped his criticism of an amoral GOP president and swore allegiance to the party to enhance his chances of being elected president of the SBC. The commitment to one has become a commitment to the other.
This reality cannot be ignored, but that does not remove the responsibilities Christian ministers and editors have to not unnecessarily incite the deep political divisions so obvious today.
Of course, both preachers and writers know that whatever one might say in this explosive environment can be perceived as “too political,” especially if we dare call listeners and readers to take seriously the life and teachings of Jesus.
Yes, politics can be divisive. Yet, the results of ignoring history as well as current realities often come at a greater, more lasting cost.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.