Words have meanings.
For example, for journalists the word "fundamentalist" has a specific meaning. The Associated Press Stylebook -- the journalist's bible -- notes that "fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.
"In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself," the stylebook advises.
Those pejorative connotations are why I was surprised to see the Louisville Courier-Journal characterize ordinary Southern Baptists as fundamentalists in a story today. I was prepared to question this original lede in the Courier-Journal:
Fundamentalist Southern Baptists have long opposed same-sex marriage and ordaining gay ministers, arguing that the Bible unequivocally rejects homosexuality as sinful and perverted.
The Louisville-based Kentucky Baptist Convention hasn't left that position to interpretation. The powerful Southern Baptist group, which has 2,400 churches and 750,000 members across the state, has ousted congregations that bless gay unions and welcome people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender as pastors and missionaries.
That's why discussions on dropping a ban against hiring gay and transgender people by a more liberal group of affiliated churches, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has threatened to trigger an even larger rift.
Why, I wondered, did the Courier-Journal choose to use that adjective in this story?
I was not alone in asking that question:
But when I clicked the Courier-Journal link a few hours later, I noticed that something was missing. "Fundamentalist" was gone. Somebody at the Louisville paper had thought better of that adjective.
Way to go, Courier-Journal!
The story overall -- no surprise here -- seems sympathetic to the gay-rights side of the debate, but to its credit, the paper quotes credible sources on both sides.
Also, Kentucky is a complex place, when it comes to Southern Baptist life -- with voices on the doctrinal left and in the middle, as well as on the right. Thus, I would love to have seen more context on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and its presence in Kentucky.
The story notes:
In the Baptist faith, church autonomy is key, and congregations choose how to worship. Many have multiple affiliations. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship formed in the early 1990s after conservative leaders gained national control of the Southern Baptists.
Some churches, such as St. Matthews Baptist Church, joined the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but stayed affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
But what specific doctrinal issues sparked the CBF's formation? (The role of women was one.) And how many CBF member churches are there in Kentucky? Of that number, how many also belong to the Kentucky Baptist Convention? In other words, how significant a number of the 2,400 total KBC affiliated congregations are we talking about?
Another point: When it comes to debating controversial issues such as this one, what are the concrete ramifications -- in numerical terms -- of the ongoing debate?
Such specific details would improve the Courier-Journal story, as would a little more precision in explaining the intricacies of the LGBTQ debate among Kentucky Baptists. For example, the headline atop the story is this:
Kentucky Baptists threaten to kick out churches that think it's OK to hire 'practicing homosexuals'
Yes, there's a bit of a click-bait edge to that title. But my bigger point is this: There's a reason that Southern Baptists use terminology such as "practicing homosexuals." In other words, are we talking about the doctrinal status of homosexual acts or of homosexual orientation, in and of itself?
Did I mention that words have meanings?