Jihad journalism: Did Southern Baptists really just declare 'spiritual warfare' on same-sex marriage?

Them's fighting words.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Southern Baptist Convention has declared "spiritual warfare" on gay marriage:

The Journal-Constitution's inflammatory lede:

Columbus, Ohio — Declaring “spiritual warfare” on gay marriage, thousands gathered here Tuesday for the annual Southern Baptist Convention and vowed that, no matter what the Supreme Court rules this month, they will never yield on the issue.
The Baptists acknowledged that the court seems likely to legalize same-sex marriage when it rules in the next two weeks, but leaders urged the faithful to stand fast and, indeed, lead the nation in opposition.
“We are in spiritual warfare,” said convention president Rev. Ronnie Floyd. “This is not a time for Southern Baptists to stand back.”
Floyd echoed a generally defiant tone among attendees, many of them pastors, who have faced increasing criticism for their belief that the Bible declares homosexuality a sin and limits marriage to a man and a woman. At a time when society is increasingly tolerant of same-sex unions, he said, Southern Baptists must stand by their views.
“This is not the time to retreat,” said Floyd, who leads Cross Church in Arkansas. “The alarm clock is going off around the world. Now is not the time to hit the snooze button.”

A reader who shared the Atlanta newspaper's story with GetReligion said:

I'm not a Southern Baptist. In fact, I'm an ex-Southern Baptist, but even still the title and lede struck me evidencing a very basic lack of understanding about the use of the phrase "spiritual warfare" by American evangelical Christians. A little digging on the internet will find that the exact statement from the convention's president was "We are in a spiritual warfare." Twisting that into "We declare war" shows a basic unfamiliarity with the terminology.

As many Christians see it, "spiritual warfare" describes a battle with sin in a fallen world, a battle fought with prayer and piety. The Southern Baptist Convention considers sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman to be sinful. It's in that context that journalists — including those who work for the Journal-Constitution — must weigh Floyd's comment, right? Atlanta is a city that contains more than a few evangelical and Pentecostal churches, after all.

Contrast the striking difference in tone between the Atlanta paper's lede and the one produced by Religion News Service veteran Adelle Banks:

(RNS) Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd told members of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination they must look to God as the final authority in their lives and not the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Our first commitment is to God and his word — nothing else and no one else,” said Floyd, an Arkansas megachurch pastor, speaking Tuesday (June 16) about the court’s impending ruling on same-sex marriage.
“I want to remind everyone today, humbly, the Supreme Court of the United States is not the final authority, nor is the culture itself, but the Bible is God’s final authority about marriage and on this book we stand,” he said, drawing a standing ovation.

The same RNS story notes:

Southern Baptists adopted a resolution “On the Call to Public Witness on Marriage” on Tuesday.
“No matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and public beliefs concerning marriage,” the statement reads.
It adds that “Southern Baptists love our neighbors and extend respect in Christ’s name to all people, including those who may disagree with us about the definition of marriage and the public good.”


Are the Southern Baptists declaring "spiritual warfare" and striking a "generally defiant tone" — as the Journal-Constitution reports? Or are Southern Baptists "humbly" following their understanding of the Bible's teachings while showing love and respect for neighbors who disagree — as RNS characterizes their position?

Like RNS, The Associated Press saw no reason to include "spiritual warfare" in its story:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination on Tuesday vowed never to officiate at a same-sex union, and the Southern Baptist Convention called on the U.S. Supreme Court not to declare a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Pastor Ronnie Floyd was speaking to delegates at the convention's annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio. But he said his message was also for the U.S. Supreme Court — which is expected to rule within days on same-sex marriage — and for all of America.
Floyd said he has compassion for people whom he described as struggling with same-sex attraction, but he said it would be wrong to remain silent on the issue.
"America: We stand believing that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in a covenant commitment for a lifetime," Floyd said to a standing ovation from the 5,000 people in attendance. "We do not need to redefine what God himself has defined already."

And interestingly, the Columbus Dispatch — the major daily in the Ohio city hosting the Southern Baptist annual meeting — didn't even open its story with the comments on same-sex marriage.

Dispatch religion writer JoAnne Viviano's lede:

Thousands of Southern Baptists knelt on the cement floor of the Columbus Convention Center on Tuesday night, some sobbing, as they prayed to God for a spiritual awakening to sweep across the United States.
They were responding to a national call for prayer issued by the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, as they closed the first day of the denomination’s annual meeting, being held in Ohio for the first time.
Floyd asked those gathered, “What if God so chose this gathering tonight?” telling them of a prayer event he attended last week at the Ohio Statehouse.
Upon leaving, he walked by the state seal.
“Underneath that seal are these words: With God all things are possible,” he said as cheers erupted. “It’s not coincidental we’re here. It is providential. We’re here because we believe with God, all things, all things, all things — yes, all things — are possible.”

Your turn, GetReligion readers: Did the Journal-Constitution take Floyd's words way out of context for dramatic effect? Or do you agree with the newspaper splashing "spiritual warfare" all over the front page in big, bold type?

If you leave a comment, please remember that GetReligion is focused on journalism and media coverage issues. This is not the place to debate the rightness or wrongness of the Southern Baptist Convention's position on same-sex marriage.

Please respect our Commenting Policy