Editorial: What is the Standard’s place in political discourse?

Baptist Standard Editor E.S. James meeting with Pres. John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C., on Feb. 11, 1963 (Photo by Cecil Stoughton, public domain, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

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Some who support Donald Trump and wish the Baptist Standard did, too, respond to articles containing criticism of Trump with calls for the Standard to stay out of politics.

Conversely, some who oppose Trump and wish the Standard did, too, responded to a recent opinion article praising Trump with calls for the Standard to stay out of politics.

It seems the one thing these opposite sides agree on is their desire for the Standard to stay out of politics.

But is staying out of politics something Baptist journalism should do? It really depends on what is meant by “stay out of politics.”

“Stay out of politics”

According to some responses we receive, one could understand “stay out of politics” to mean a blanket prohibition against any mention of politics within the Standard. Writers in this vein tell us to stick to the gospel.

As I understand it, the gospel involves how we conduct ourselves—in word and deed—in the world. I would argue that sticking to the gospel—speaking truth and loving our neighbor—requires addressing politics.

Some respondents are more circumscribed. By “stay out of politics,” they mean they want us not to publish criticism of politicians—usually those politicians a given respondent supports. These writers also want us to stick to the gospel.

Here is another point of agreement: Readers want us to stick to the gospel.

While we do need to refrain from rehearsing the personal attacks of one politician against another, I remember Jesus—without whom there is no gospel—calling Herod a “fox.” And it wasn’t a compliment.

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I’m not sure it’s possible to do both—stay out of politics and stick to the gospel.

Stick to the gospel

Since a close reading of the Gospels suggests staying out of politics and sticking to the gospel seem mutually exclusive, Baptist journalists—and pastors—need to understand their place in political discourse.

A good place to start is to define “politics.” How I would define politics bears a return to my editorial from July 31, 2019, in which I quoted from The Politics of Ministry: “Politics is what happens between people when they try to get something done together.” Every Baptist can agree with that definition of politics.

We can put flesh on that skeletal definition by acknowledging how alike the polity of a local Baptist church is to national, state and local governments in the United States. Indeed, the local Baptist church is a microcosm of state and federal governments, complete with constitutions, bylaws, elected and appointed officials, committees, budgets, etc.

How does anything get done in a Baptist church without politics being involved? Not even the Holy Spirit moves in a Baptist church without a majority vote.

Baptist pastors—and all pastors—are expected to shepherd their flocks, to guide their congregations in embodying the gospel in this world. That simply can’t be done without delving into politics at the most basic level, the level of “what happens between people when they try to get something done.”

Baptist journalism performs a similar role, though it is more informational than pastoral.

The line not to cross

What our readers don’t want us to do is to favor one candidate or officeholder over another. They also do not want us telling them how to vote. On these two points, our readers are like the majority of American adults.

Most of our readers would agree, however, that Baptist journalists—and pastors—have to address things like finances and economics, marriage and friendship, business ethics, feeding the hungry, and other interpersonal and societal concerns affected by the gospel and politics.

To that end, Baptist journalism exists to share information about what is happening in the world and how Christians are engaged in what is happening. At least one of my predecessors was known for saying, “An informed Baptist is a better Baptist.

Baptist journalism also informs through publishing opinion—what different Christians think about what is happening in the world and what Christians should do in response. Just like what ought to happen in church business meetings, opposing views should be considered.

But because opinion goes beyond news, engaging in varying degrees of persuasion, it toes the line between what readers think we should and shouldn’t do.

Baptist journalism’s place

Baptist journalism shouldn’t shrink back from that line, however, because that is the place where knowledge gained from information can be translated via opinions into understanding and application. It is the transition point between our place and your place.

Like most of our readers, I agree Baptist journalism should not endorse political candidates, even if what sounds like an endorsement is voiced by published opinion writers.

Similarly, I agree Baptist journalism should not tell readers how to vote.

If that’s how “politics” is defined, we should stay out of it.

But if by “politics” we mean something more like equipping God’s people for works of service, then the Standard must inform, inspire and challenge people to follow Jesus by engaging in the ministry of reconciliation, not just between Christians, but the world to God.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP.

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If we achieved our goal—or didn’t—we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to Eric Black, our editor. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.

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