By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Over the years I/Baptist and Reflector have been “killed” countless times, not with bullets but with words.
Why? We have been the messenger — the bearer or deliverer of bad news or news that strikes those who read it negatively and causes them to blame the messenger, not those who spoke or wrote the message in the first place.
I have grown accustomed to the role and it doesn’t really bother me much anymore personally. I am troubled that this publication, the Baptist and Reflector, is blamed for doing what it was intended to do — inform Tennessee Baptists.
The Baptist and Reflector is now in its 186th year of informing Tennessee Baptists and is one of only about six Baptist state publications that still print an issue more than once a month. Apparently, we have been doing something right for those 185-plus years.
In the Jan. 13 issue of the B&R, we printed a Baptist Press news story entitled “SBC leaders call for prayer after D.C. protests.” In the article, several SBC leaders commented about the protests at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month.
I knew some readers would not like or agree with the remarks of some SBC leaders (which included current president J.D. Greear and Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an upcoming candidate for the SBC presidency). I conferred with my associate and right arm David Dawson and my immediate supervisor Chris Turner, director of communications for the TBMB.
We knew there would be backlash because the article dealt with politics and that can be a volatile subject for many folks, including Christians. We deemed that Tennessee Baptists had a right to know what their Southern Baptist leaders said about the event. Publishing the story did not mean that any of us agreed or disagreed with what was said. We just felt obligated to report the news.
One reader especially took exception to Mohler’s remarks and e-mailed me a letter but addressed him directly. It was a highly charged, emotional letter, calling him out for his opinions.
Near the end, however, the writer wrote that “I no longer deem the Baptist and Reflector as a credible publication.” The messenger was shot.
I totally disagree with the writer’s viewpoint. Had we ignored the story and pretended it did not happen, then the criticism would have been valid. We report history as it happens.
Fifty years from now, should the Lord tarry, a doctoral student at a theological seminary will probably write a paper on how Southern Baptists responded to what happened at the Capitol in January of 2021. If we had not reported on the response of Southern Baptist leaders we would have been negligent in our duties.
Shooting the messenger is nothing new. It has been around as long as mankind itself.
The Bible, especially in the Old Testament, includes references about the messenger being punished, and in some cases, actually killed for delivering bad news. It was true for Old Testament prophets who delivered stern warnings from God Himself and it carried over to the New Testament. Paul and other disciples faced death because they dared to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Blaming a newspaper for printing a news story is totally different than punishing a Christian for his or her beliefs, but the concept is the same. If you don’t like the message, blame the messenger.
As I stated earlier, it is not the first time the B&R has been shot and it won’t be the last as long as we remain faithful to one of our purposes.
I probably will never know if the letter writer sent the message to Dr. Mohler. It is not my place to forward that letter to him. But if the writer did not, she missed the opportunity to let the person who MADE the comments know she was unhappy and that she disagreed.
The letter is a reminder of the challenging days our nation is facing. We are divided as a country, and as history records, a nation divided will eventually fall. Pray for our country and pray for our leaders. I believe God wants us to pray for healing in our land, whether we voted for those leaders or not.
Ultimately, He is the only answer and hope.