By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
When the calendar rolled over to Jan. 1, 2020 a few weeks ago, the Baptist and Reflector reached a milestone.
On Jan. 1 of 1835, the first issue of THE BAPTIST was produced. THE BAPTIST was the forerunner of the Baptist and Reflector. It was published before the present day Tennessee Baptist Convention was established in 1874.
So, that means the B&R has been telling the story of Tennessee Baptists for 185 years. Think about that. The paper was around during the Civil War, both World Wars and countless others. It survived the Great Depression.
It’s hard to determine, but we know the Baptist and Reflector is one of the oldest publications (both religious and secular) in terms of continuous print publications. There are some publications that are older, but they are now online only.
In 2005, on the occasion of the paper’s 170th anniversary, the B&R published Telling the Truth in Love: A Brief History of the Baptist and Reflector from 1835. The book was written by former editor Fletcher Allen, who died a few years after the book was published. The B&R history was a labor of love for Fletcher because it combined two of his passions — history and Baptist state papers.
In the book’s prologue, Allen wrote that from its birth in 1835, the editors recognized their responsibility “to trust the Lord and tell the people. From handset type to sophisticated computerized efficiency, they managed not only to survive, but also to tell the story. Though they struggled with lack of funding, hard times and wars, doctrinal and Scriptural disputes, through the years they firmly established a good reputation for the paper. They knew that churches and people, in order to make good decisions, needed the news.”
That especially holds true today. We live in a world where integrity is lacking. The internet has opened the door for anyone with a computer to send out information nonstop. The problem is that there is no accountability. People can spout off unfounded information as “facts” and others run with them, taking no time to check the veracity of the information. The web has become a rumor mill on steroids.
There are those within the Southern Baptist Convention who feel they have been misrepresented on the web. Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., wrote recently, “With the arrival of the internet and in particular blogging and social media, a similar scenario has developed in the online world. There’s an imbalance of loss when public accusations are made. The one who leads a public ministry has everything to lose, while an anonymous blogger has nothing to lose.
“This new reality is causing chaos in the Southern Baptist Convention. False accusations are circulated online daily. Ironically, some of these instigators aren’t even Southern Baptist. Nonetheless, they malign SBC ministries and sully the reputations of those who lead them. And for Southern Baptists, our cooperative work is being threatened.”
I have found that to be true in Baptist life. In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, Baptist papers constantly had to refute the Madalyn Murray O’Hair rumor that the atheist was petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to ban all religious broadcast. The FCC had to dispute that rumor for nearly decades. We published stories often in the B&R encouraging church members to stop the petition. All that petition did was to keep Christians from focusing on their primary task — sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. And, just think, that rumor flourished before the internet. I hate to think of how widely it would have been spread if the technology we have today would have been in place then.
Throughout this year we will bring attention to the paper’s milestone anniversary as a reminder of why we exist and that we still have a role in denominational life. We have a rich heritage and we have an unlimited future. The internet does not need to be feared. In recent years we have intentionally worked to make the B&R website an integral part in telling the story of Tennessee Baptists. While our print circulation still hovers at nearly 19,500, we are probably reaching more readers than ever before with the addition of the website. We have had a presence on the Tennessee Baptist Convention website since 1998. From 2000 until October of 2015, we had 2.7 million page views. In 2015, we moved to a dedicated B&R website. In slightly more than four years, there have been more than 1,375,820 page views, for a total of more than four million page views in about 20 years.
Please help us in 2020 to make the B&R more effective than ever before. Encourage friends and church members to subscribe to the print edition. It is still “our bread and butter.” The online version includes stories that may not make it to the print edition due to space constraints. The print edition focuses primarily on Tennessee news because that is what our readers have told us they want. The website offers more stories with a national convention perspective. All are needed to make us more informed, effective Baptists who are trying to reach our communities, state and world with the good news of Jesus Christ.
For more information about the paper and how to subscribe (either individually or through our church plan), contact Mary Nimmo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-371-7929. We want you to join our “family of subscribers.”