Baptist General Convention of Texas

Sign of the times? Major Southern Baptist figure dies and gets zero mainstream news coverage

Sign of the times? Major Southern Baptist figure dies and gets zero mainstream news coverage

At one time, the Rev. Jimmy Allen was a major figure in Southern Baptist circles.

In 2004, when I did a package on the 25th anniversary of that denomination’s conservative takeover — or “take back,” depending on one’s perspective — I interviewed Allen.

In fact, my main story on that anniversary opened with Allen:

HOUSTON — Back in 1979, the Rev. Jimmy Allen thought the highlight of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting would be a giant rally at the Astrodome featuring the Rev. Billy Graham.

Instead, Allen and other moderate leaders in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination were caught by surprise as conservatives who had attacked the denomination’s seminaries as “hotbeds of liberalism” flocked to the meeting.

There, they succeeded in electing a denominational president, the Rev. Adrian Rogers of Tennessee, who shared their view of biblical inerrancy – meaning that the Bible is without error in any way, including historical details.

Some thought the vote was just a momentary change in direction, but Rogers’ election turned out be a watershed moment for the denomination. 

Last week, Allen died at age 91 — and the world of Baptist media took notice.

The mainstream press? Not so much. More on that in a moment.

This was the lede from Bob Allen of Baptist News Global:

Jimmy R. Allen, the last moderate president of the Southern Baptist Convention and executive director emeritus of the New Baptist Covenant, died early Jan. 8 at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, Georgia.

His pastor, Tony Lankford of First Baptist Church of St. Simons Island, said the 91-year-old had been in failing health. …

Named in 1999 one of the most influential Baptists of the 20th century, Allen served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1978 and 1979, the two years before conservatives took over control of the nation’s largest Protestant body in a move they called the “conservative resurgence.”

In 1990 he presided over the Consultation of Concerned Baptists in Atlanta, forerunner to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. In 2008 he agreed to become program chair and coordinator for the New Baptist Covenant, a pan-Baptist gathering promoting racial unity spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter.

In 1995 Allen wrote the book Burden of a Secret, a personal account of his family’s battle with AIDS.

David Roach of the SBC’s official Baptist Press wrote this:

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'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

'Southern Baptist' voucher-hating pastor touted on Dallas front page -- but is he still Southern Baptist?

"Pastor's message: Vouchers are evil."

OK, Dallas Morning News, you've got my attention with that front-page, above-the-fold Sunday headline.

Spoiler alert: The newspaper never gets around to explaining why the pastor believes vouchers are evil.

But believe or not, that unanswered question is not even the most frustrating part of this Page 1 profile: That would be the story's failure to specify whether the pastor in question -- whom the Dallas newspaper three times describes as a Southern Baptist -- actually still leads a Southern Baptist congregation. 

Or is the pastor -- Charlie Johnson -- a former Southern Baptist, a la Jimmy Carter? More on that question in a moment.

First, though, let's back up and consider the lede:

AUSTIN -- Quoting Bible verses and calling the school vouchers proposal by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other lawmakers “sinful,” Fort Worth minister Charli Johnson has been driving feverishly round the state before the March 6 primary.
At rallies and impromptu meetings arranged by friendly school superintendents with local ministers, the longtime Southern Baptist preacher delivers a fiery message on behalf of public schools. His get-out-the-vote crusade has irritated GOP state leaders and staunchly conservative activists who favor using tax dollars o help parents of children enrolled in public schools pay to attend private schools.
Johnson, pastor of the small, interracial Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, does not mince words. Christians have an obligation to embrace public schools as a social good, especially for poor children, he says.
As he said in a sharp exchange with a leading House voucher proponent at a legislative hearing just over a year ago, “You have the right to home-school your children. You have the right to ‘private school’ your children. You don’t have the right to ask the people of Texas to pay for it.”

Let's see: The piece opens with a reference to Bible verses that Johnson uses to characterize vouchers as "sinful." As I kept reading, can you guess what I was expecting to see? That's right -- I assumed the paper would mention a specific verse or two to help readers understand the theological case that the pastor makes.

Nope!

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Conservative, moderate, liberal: A few more thoughts on Baylor, Baptists and theological labels

Conservative, moderate, liberal: A few more thoughts on Baylor, Baptists and theological labels

In my post Thursday, I delved into the religious background of Baylor University's first female president — a Baptist supportive of female senior pastors.

In that post, I noted that the Dallas Morning Newsin a front-page story — referred to Baylor as a "conservative Baptist school."

I wrote:

I'm not certain that "conservative Baptist" is the best description for Baylor, particularly in Texas. Longtime observers know that Baylor in the 1990s "survived a fierce struggle between conservatives and moderates at the Southern Baptist Convention." As Christianity Today notes, Baylor maintains a relationship with the moderate (in Baptist terms) Baptist General Convention of Texas, which "selects a quarter of Baylor’s board of regents and provides a sliver of its annual operating budget."

I also suggested that describing Baylor as "conservative" was questionable given its hiring of a president, Linda Livingstone, who has attended churches affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF, I said, "includes progressive Southern Baptist and former Southern Baptist congregations."

My post drew some excellent feedback from two longtime observers of Texas Baptists — and I wanted to highlight their insight in this follow-up post.

The first comment came from Jeffrey Weiss, the former award-winning Godbeat pro for the Dallas Morning News. Given that Weiss is in the midst of a cancer battle about which he has written eloquently for his own newspaper and Religion News Service, I was especially grateful to hear from him.

Here is what Weiss said:

I would gently suggest that BGCT remains "conservative" if one need not be extreme to justify the word. CBF is a different story, however. Fascinating!

I always appreciate gentle comments from faithful readers. Many thanks, kind sir!

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Baylor again has a Baptist president — its first female head — and other relevant details on her hiring

Baylor again has a Baptist president — its first female head — and other relevant details on her hiring

By now, you probably heard that scandal-plagued Baylor University has hired a new presidentits first female one.

The lede from the Dallas Morning News' front-page report:

Baylor University has hired its first woman president in its 172-year history, the university announced Tuesday, as the school works to recover from its long-running sexual assault scandal.
Linda Livingstone, the dean of George Washington University’s business school and a former faculty member at Baylor, was the unanimous choice of the university’s regents, the school said.
She will begin June 1.
Livingstone steps in to steer the university after a sexual assault crisis led to the ousting of her predecessor last May. Baylor parted ways with university president Ken Starr, as well as the football coach and the athletic director, in a sweeping reaction to the school’s botched handling of rapes and other attacks, including those by football players.

Obviously, Baylor's decision to hire a woman to deal with its ongoing rape scandal is the major news development.

But GetReligion readers no doubt are interested in specific religious details concerning the new leader of "the world's largest Baptist university" — as the news media and Baylor itself often refer to the Waco, Texas, institution.

Such details are scattered throughout the secular newspaper and Christian media reports that we scanned. When put together, those accounts begin to paint a portrait of Livingstone's faith background.

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News reports aside, battle for hearts, souls and LGBT stances of Texas Baptists is complicated

News reports aside, battle for hearts, souls and LGBT stances of Texas Baptists is complicated

For decades, a battle has waged for the hearts — and souls — of Texas Baptists. I covered this battle during my time as a Dallas-based religion writer for The Associated Press.

More than a decade after I left AP, a new skirmish has erupted in the Lone Star State over some Baptist churches embracing same-sex marriage. I mentioned this clash briefly last week in a post that highlighted the Dallas Morning News' tone-deafness on Baptists who describe themselves as "welcoming but not affirming" of LGBT behavior.

The Washington Post — a national newspaper that, to its credit, devotes multiple full-time journalists to religion news — jumped on the Texas Baptists story with a report published both online and in print.

By referring to the Dallas church "getting kicked out of the Texas Baptists," of course, the headline gives a pretty clear idea of the direction the Post story will take: Rather than a Dallas church voting to "sever ties" with Texas Baptists by defying their theology, this is a case of a heroic, victimized church doing what it considers right and suffering unfortunate consequences for it.

Certainly, that's one side of the story. But shouldn't a fair, impartial news report play it more down the middle?

The Post's lede is equally slanted toward the pro-LGBT side:

A young man came to the Rev. George Mason, wanting to talk about his parents’ wedding.
The youth, of course, hadn’t been at the wedding. But Mason had, and he remembered it well. Some 800 or 900 people. Pillars of the community. One of the largest weddings in the history of Wilshire Baptist Church.
“You performed the wedding of my parents in this church,” the young man said to Mason. “If I fall in love and want to get married, my question is, will my church community support me?”
The youth would want to marry a man. And in that moment, as in other moments in recent years, Mason realized something that would have shocked him when he started out as a pastor 37 years ago: He would want to officiate at that gay wedding.
Now, after putting the issue to a contentious popular vote that has torn his congregation, Mason, 60, can do just that. Wilshire Baptist Church voted 577 to 367 to welcome LGBT people as full participants in every aspect of the church — as members, as lay leaders, as potential clergy, and yes, as brides and grooms.
As soon as the Dallas church completed its vote, the Baptist General Convention of Texas started proceedings to kick the church out of the denominational body. “All Texas Baptists are loving, respectful and welcoming to all people. But while we are welcoming, we are not affirming,” said a spokesman for the denominational association, which often goes by the name Texas Baptists. The spokesman talked with The Post on the condition that his name not be published.

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Hey Dallas Morning News: Bible contains two books of Timothy, and Peter didn't write them

Hey Dallas Morning News: Bible contains two books of Timothy, and Peter didn't write them

Imagine if a sportswriter covering the Dallas Cowboys (who are on quite a roll!) didn't know the difference between a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

Or if a journalist reporting on the Texas Rangers (my beloved Texas Rangers) failed to understand how a batter could swing and miss at strike three — and still reach first base safely.

Now contemplate this for a moment: What if —  a la Donald "Two Corinthians" Trump — a major newspaper's reporters and editors failed to realize that the apostle Paul wrote two letters, not one, to his "son in the faith" Timothy? Or even that Paul, not Peter, was the one who penned them?

Welcome to the Dallas Morning News of 2016 — a once-great newspaper with a once-unrivaled team of Godbeat pros.

These days, this — referring to Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas — is what passes for religion reporting in the Texas newspaper:

In another video he posted Wednesday morning, Jeffress pointed to the Book of Timothy, where Peter instructed Christians to pray for all leaders. He tweeted that he would have the same message if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency.

For everyone reading this in the Dallas Morning News newsroom (and that's no longer a large group of people, which is part of the problem), those New Testament epistles are known as 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. (Or for president-elects who might ever need to mention them out loud, think First Timothy and Second Timothy.

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Houston Chronicle team shows (again) that it just doesn't 'get' the struggles at Baylor

Houston Chronicle team shows (again) that it just doesn't 'get' the struggles at Baylor

How many Southern Baptists are there in the greater Houston area, out of a population of four to six million people?

This is not an easy question to answer, just poking around online. It doesn't help, of course, that Texas Baptists are a rather divided bunch and things have been that way for several decades. But one thing is sure, there are hundreds of Southern Baptist congregations in the area and several of them are, even in Donald Trump terms, YYHHUUGGEE.

Now, the important journalism question -- when looking at Houston Chronicle coverage of Baylor University issues -- is whether there are any Southern Baptists, or even former Southern Baptists, who work on this newspaper's copy desk or in its suite of management offices.

Can I get a witness?!? Is there anybody there who knows anything about events in recent Southern Baptist life and how they affect the news?

It would appear that the answer is "no." I base that judgement on the following passage in a rather bizarre Chronicle report about the current Baylor crisis (it's much bigger than a football crisis) about sexual assaults involving Baylor students.

Baylor is the nation’s largest Baptist school and has deep Christian roots. As the university has moved into the modern era -- allowing dancing on campus, adding non-Baptist board members and, most recently, removing a long-standing ban on “homosexual acts” -- it has angered some Baptist leaders. In recent years, school officials have acted to dilute the influence of the state’s Baptist convention. In return, the convention has cut its financial support by millions.
Baylor leaders must walk a fine line.

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Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang

Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang

"Gospel with a little twang" was how The Dallas Morning News billed its front-page Sunday story on cowboy churches.

The writer, Charlie Scudder, had a whole lot of fun with that little bit of twang.

The result: a nice trend feature (accompanied by video interviews and an excellent photo gallery) that took readers inside two western-themed congregations in Fort Worth:

FORT WORTH — At high noon in the Stockyards Station, just after the
longhorn cattle drive down Exchange Avenue and just before the
gunfight show, a congregation comes to worship.

Pastor George Westby has been leading services here at the Cowboy
Church at the Fort Worth Stockyards for 23 years. His services attract
visitors from all over the country as well as a handful of regulars.

But just off Exchange Avenue, down in the old horse-and-mule barn
where there’s real manure and fewer vacationing families, a second
cowboy church is here for the same reason.

The Cowtown Cowboy Church, led by pastor Sonny Miller, started meeting
in spring 2013 on a dirt patch under the vaulted ceilings of the old
stables.

The newer church is part of the Western Heritage Ministry of the Texas
Baptists, a group of more than 200 churches statewide that embrace the
Gospel with a little twang.

Next, the Morning News provides a nut graf designed to put the Fort Worth churches into a larger context.

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