"Publish and Conceal Not": A Brief History of the Baptist Standard

On a plaque in office of the Baptist Standard is a citation from Jeremiah 50:2, which reads "Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish and conceal not."

Publish and conceal not. This text describes the role of the Baptist Standard, the widely read and highly respected weekly newsjournal of Texas Baptists. Since its origin in 1888, the Standard has grown to become the most influential paper in Baptist history.

Old and New: One of the last print editions paired with the June 11, 1896, edition. The Standard is published digitally today.

For years, the Standard was privately owned, but it was given debt-free to the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 1914. It is governed by a board of directors elected by the convention. The board elects the editor, oversees general editorial policy, and within that context leaves the editor free to do his job.

Probably no Baptist paper in America has the degree of editorial freedom that the Baptist Standard does and that, no doubt, is one reason the paper is highly regarded as an authentic voice of Baptist conviction and not merely a parroting of some party line dictated by convention bureaucrats.

Some convention leaders have chafed over the editorial freedom of the Standard, and one or two executive directors tried to bring the paper under the control of the state convention executive board, but those efforts failed.

Controversy: In 1892, James B. Cranfill and a partner acquired the Western Baptist, which they renamed the Texas Baptist Standard. When Cranfill and his bitter enemy S. A. Hayden ran into each other on a train to the Southern Baptist Convention, The New York Times referred to the incident as "a sensational shooting affray" under the headline "Ministers in Pistol Fight."

The early history of the Standard saw it grow from a local newspaper serving a few Texas counties to become a statewide publication with a peak circulation in the late 1970s of almost 400,000 subscribers in Texas and around the nation and the world.

The Standard has been shaped by personal and theological conflict throughout its history, emerging as a "peace paper" to rally Texas Baptists around missions and the state convention. Fittingly, its greatest modern challenges sprang from its coverage of the theological and political controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention from the late 1970s through the '90s.

Presnall Wood served as editor of the Standard for more than 18 years (1977-1996), the longest tenure in the paper's history. He succeeded layman John Hurt, a former Associated Press newsman who led the paper for 12 years. Wood was a pastor but grew up in Vernon under the ministry of E. S. James, who later edited the Standard from 1954 to 1966. Wood wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Standard, later published as Prophets With Pens. During his tenure, Wood operated on the conviction that an informed Baptist is a better Baptist. When the fundamentalist resurgence engulfed the Southern Baptist Convention in turmoil, the Standard covered the controversy extensively. It turned out that not all agreed with the paper's coverage, and others did not really want to know. Some thought the controversy would go away if it was ignored, and others would have been only too glad to silence the Standard.

Presnall Wood

The political and theological struggle was still raging when Toby Druin took the helm in 1996. A native of Amarillo, graduate of Baylor University and a veteran journalist, Druin joined the staff as associate editor in 1976. Before that, he had been associate editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder and editor of news services for the SBC Home Mission Board. He continued to aggressively cover the theological and political controversy until his retirement in 1999.

Fallout from the controversy, in addition to the increasing cost of postage and paper and a decline in newspaper readership in general over those decades, led the Standard to switch from a magazine to a tabloid format in 1996, go online with a website in 1997 and expand cooperation with sister organizations like Associated Baptist Press and others.

Marv Knox is editor of the Standard (1999-present). A native of Fort Worth, Knox grew up in a pastor's home in the Texas Panhandle and earned degrees from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. An experienced journalist, Knox served as editor of the Western Recorder, the Baptist paper of Kentucky, from 1990 to 1995. Before that, he was associate editor of the Baptist Messenger of Louisiana, director of news and information at Southern Seminary, assistant news director of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board in Atlanta, and staff writer for the Abilene Reporter News. He joined the Standard staff as associate editor in 1995.

New strategies continue to be implemented to help the paper accomplish its mission in a new millennium. Despite the challenges, one could hardly find a better example of continuity amidst change than the Standard.

The Standard's assignment

The Baptist Standard's assignment from the convention is "to aid and support the Baptist General Convention of Texas and to interpret events and movements that affect the welfare of the people of God."

The editors have faithfully followed the officially adopted policy of "promoting all phases of work sponsored and promoted by the denomination and cooperating churches, the dissemination of all information relevant to the growth and welfare of these Baptist people, the development of fuller understanding of Baptist doctrines by all who bear the name Baptist, the evangelization of all persons within the reach of the convention and the encouragement to high moral standards and living among all peoples."

Adapted from Texas Baptists: A Sesquicentennial History by H. Leon McBeth

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