JEFFERSON CITY – Promising that it will "demonstrate a theologically conservative perspective," the Missouri Baptist Convention is launching a new official publication June 8 to replace the embattled newspaper, Word & Way.
The new journal, The Pathway, derives its name from Jeremiah 6:16: "Thus says the Lord: Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls."
The publication will be Web-based except for a one-time special print edition to be distributed to every messenger attending the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting June 11-12 in St. Louis. Churches will be able to access the new publication at The Pathway Internet site and download it to print and distribute to members. Plans call for a print version to be published, perhaps in 2003. The Executive Board allocated $60,000 to start and maintain the publication through December.
"In response to the MBC annual meeting motion last October we are establishing a new official news journal for the Missouri Baptist Convention," said Ben Hess, chairman of the MBC Executive Board’s news journal committee and pastor of First Baptist Church of Herculaneum-Pevely. "The journal will focus on promoting unity in the MBC for kingdom growth."
Creation of the new journal also comes after messengers to the MBC’s annual meeting voted overwhelmingly Oct. 30 to escrow $2.1 million earmarked in the 2002 budget for five Missouri Baptist Convention entities where moderate trustees voted in the past two years to become self-perpetuating rather than seat more conservative trustees elected by MBC churches. Word & Way is one of the five entities said to have a combined worth of nearly $100 million. Of the escrowed monies, $450,000 was budgeted for Word & Way.
The creation of another conservative state convention publication suggests a trend throughout the SBC. In recent years a gaggle of new, more theologically conservative news journals have surfaced in Texas, Virginia, North Carolina and now Missouri. Also, conservative editors have been named to lead existing state newspapers, including those in Florida, Oklahoma and Indiana.
The trend toward a more conservative denominational press is sure to continue as long as conservatives are elected to state presidencies and are appointed to trustee boards of state newspapers. As a result, Southern Baptists may be witnessing the end to decades of one of the more bizarre relationships in the history of Christian journalism in which moderate state newspapers became hopelessly at odds with the resurgent conservative SBC leadership and a declining readership in the pews that has always been – and remains — solidly conservative.
"Conservative Missouri Baptists have every reason to rejoice," said Roger Moran, research director for the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association (MBLA). "For the first time, we will have a conservative news journal with a conservative editor, who has a heart for evangelism, a love for the conservative Southern Baptist Convention – Missouri Baptists’ partner in making disciples throughout the world – and a belief in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Indeed, it is a new day in Missouri."
The MBC Executive Board’s news journal committee unanimously voted on May 14 to hire veteran newspaper editor and reporter Don Hinkle as editor of The Pathway. Hinkle, presently a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., holds a master’s degree from Southern in Church Ministry and Leadership and a bachelor’s degree in English from Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Va.
Ordained into the Gospel ministry in 1999, Hinkle has been a reporter for The Tennessean in Nashville, The Courier-Journal in Louisville, and The Daily Press in Newport News. He was editor of The Daily Herald in Columbia, Tenn., prior to entering seminary. He has written for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and has been a national correspondent for Baptist Press since 1998. He has attended the World (magazine) Journalism Institute in Asheville, N.C., and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a conservative "think tank" in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Hinkle will assume the editor’s duties June 1.
The conservative leadership in Missouri has grown increasingly disenchanted with Word & Way’s willingness to publicize the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and the new Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM), both splinter organizations formed by disgruntled moderates who do not like the conservative direction of the SBC.
Missouri conservatives also contend that Word & Way often seems contradictory in its words and deeds. Bill Webb, Word & Way editor, wrote editorially on April 18 that Word & Way has published far more stories about the conservative MBLA (MBLA helped get theological conservatives elected to the MBC presidency in the past four elections.) than it has the Missouri CBF or BGCM. "Even a casual reader of Word & Way knows we are actively doing our part to promote the ministries of both the state convention and the Southern Baptist Convention," Webb wrote. But two weeks after Webb’s editorial Word & Way ran a story headlined, "CBF of Missouri says, ‘It’s Time!’" It was accompanied by a photo of four smiling Missouri CBF leaders. On May 16 Word & Way published a story headlined: "BGCM launches search for first executive director."
Webb also argued that Word & Way has never been granted the title of "official" news journal of the MBC. Conservatives counter that the newspaper continues to occupy rent-free office space in the Baptist Building in Jefferson City and has been the recipient of millions of dollars from Southern Baptists in the state through the MBC budget — and subscriptions. In addition, the MBC has a long history of electing trustees to the Word & Way — that is until the current board voted to give themselves the sole power of selecting their successors.
Word & Way also has clashed with the two most recent MBC presidents.
Five days after the trustees voted to become self-perpetuating on Oct. 19, 2001, a seething Robert Collins, pastor of Plaza Heights Baptist Church in Blue Springs and then MBC president, tore into the trustees for their action: "It is now obvious that a small, but convincing, group of liberal-moderate CBF/Mainstream Missourians have been hard at work behind the scenes orchestrating the unethical, unchristian (and possibly illegal) takeover of a number of our agencies and institutions."
Webb defended the trustee action, saying it was necessary for a "free, open and responsible press, and a free, open responsible Word & Way."
Collins would have none of it: "That statement almost presupposes there hasn’t been a free press in Missouri. Bill (Webb) has never stated to me his hands were tied on reporting the news. I think if you’ll ask Bill Webb there are already limits as to what he will put in the newspaper, including advertisements. He is using that argument to his advantage without telling the whole truth. For a journalist, that is a problem.
"I would ask what evidence they have that they won’t have freedom of the press in the future," Collins told Baptist Press. "There is none."
More recently, Word & Way declined to publish an "open letter" to Missouri Baptists from MBC President Bob Curtis. The letter refuted untrue statements made by leaders of the five entities whose trustees voted to become self-perpetuating. Curtis’ letter explained how he had diligently sought meetings to discuss reconciliation and restoration and how leaders of the five entities had been uncooperative – until May 28. Word & Way ran a front-page news article about the letter May 16, but that led to Curtis charging the newspaper with reporting his comments out of the intended context.
The $450,000 in escrowed funds is just the latest problem plaguing the 106-year-old Word & Way. It continues to suffer from declining circulation and its former managing editor, Tim Palmer, abruptly resigned in November, citing the trustees’ vote to become self-perpetuating as a reason.
Meanwhile, the MBC Executive Board’s legal issues task force continues to study the self-perpetuating controversy and possible legal action against Word & Way trustees. The task force has secured legal opinions from three prestigious Missouri law firms who all three independently concluded that the trustees acted illegally when they voted to become self-perpetuating. The MBC Executive Board stripped Word & Way of its "official" MBC status in April, a move that prevents it from being distributed as the host state convention publication at the SBC meeting in St. Louis. Instead, that privilege now goes to The Pathway.