Years ago, editors of state Baptist publications were more likely to set aside an issue every year or two to remind readers why the editors felt their newspaper or magazine made a difference in the lives of readers.
We came up with catchy headlines like “Why reading the Baptist newspaper is important” or some variation of that idea. These were the days before we began distributing news and information, opinion and advertising via the Internet or email or even digital editions of our print publications.
All kidding aside, the reasons we gave made sense. Most of them still do, especially if one allows for changes in how readers access their news, what causes they choose to support, their loyalties to Baptist denominational and institutional life, and other factors. If Baptist readers were all alike 25-30 years ago (and they weren’t!) than they are not today.
Baptists remain interested in the issues of the day, some of them specific to Baptists but many of them specific to Christendom. Most of our readers are Baptists by choice; they naturally are interested in how to best live out their faith in distinctively Baptist ways. For instance, Baptists have traditionally bristled at the thought of state churches (government-preferred, government-supported or government-taxed). In America, Baptists began bristling with these concerns during the nation’s formative years and most still do today.
Baptists still are very interested in each other and what is happening among us. This takes various news forms. Linked by doctrinal and methodological similarities, Baptists have been a “gathering” people. We relate individually and as families to congregations, which in turn gather into regional congregations, state associations and conventions, national denominations and even international bodies, like the Baptist World Alliance. We often benefit when we learn how another group is finding success in Christian endeavors, or we occasionally learn from the pitfalls of others. But without effective communications, we can do neither effectively.
Word&Way is still one of those Baptist communications tools that provide weekly Bible study comment from people within our readership. We select people who take the Bible and the commenting responsibility seriously. As such, we have a loyal following of readers who grow in their scriptural insights because they subscribe to Word&Way and use it, in part, to study the Holy Bible.
Baptist communications entities like ours also link individuals, companies, churches and products through advertising. Our advertisers are particularly attracted to our audiences of Baptist clergy, Baptist laity and Baptist churches. Some have products that are particularly targeted to Baptists, whether they offer church furniture, architecture, baptistries, vans and buses, books, periodicals, or whether they have products that have a broader appeal.
Baptists are no different than non-Baptist people in that they care about the opinions of others and the issues of the day. I hope most of the time our readers will find something on our Opinion pages that will give them something to chew on. It is pretty easy to present opinion material that we know will please some readers and will potentially anger others. I have a conviction that we have some things we can learn from each other if we’ll only read and listen respectfully. When we do less, we emulate some in the secular media more readily than the best in the Christian community. In addition to editorial freedom, we value letters and guest opinions.
Baptist news and communications outlets still have a responsibility to bring Baptists together rather than divide them. We are sometimes a bunch knowN more for being not so much respectful of others as intolerant, quick to criticize others and each other more than seeking the redeeming qualities they might possess. This is a bit of a shift for many in Baptist communications. In the past, we were interested in protecting our turf, whether we be Southern, American, National, General or some other Baptist. We didn’t do very well even in recognizing other Christians as valued believers.
Word&Way is following the lead of the Baptist World Alliance and the much more recent New Baptist Covenant in searching for ways to work together. Genuine unity should be sought out.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.