Race and Southern Baptists: This is why it's so hard to tell difference between opinion, news these days

It started with an opinion column in the New York Times.

A little-known black pastor from Oklahoma wrote in Monday's Times that he's leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.

Lawrence Ware described "being called a nigger to my face" by a fellow Southern Baptist camper when he was 13.

More than two decades later, Ware explained that he "can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy."

The pastor ended the piece by saying that he loves all people, but he loves black people "more."

In response to the column, Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher suggested at the American Conservative:

It sounds like he has apostatized to the Church of Identity Politics. It’s a false religion, but an increasingly popular one, alas.

So why am I highlighting a progressive column and a conservative response here at GetReligion? This journalism blog, after all, steers clear of analyzing op-eds and editorials. That's not our mission.

Rather, we focus — as regular readers know — on critiquing mainstream news coverage of religion.

Well, here is another instance of the lines being blurred. Just this week, my GetReligion colleague Julia Duin delved into the interesting case study of the Eugene Peterson story. Now, once again, we have an opinion column making news.

The Times column prompted The Tennessean, the Gannett-owned daily in Nashville, to interview other black Baptist pastors about Ware's statements:

A black Oklahoma State University lecturer says he is renouncing his ordination as a Southern Baptist minister because of the racism he sees within the country's largest Protestant denomination. 
Other black Southern Baptist leaders acknowledged the sentiment Lawrence Ware expressed in his New York Times column that published Monday, but they think staying a part of the Southern Baptist Convention allows them to help the network of churches continue to move toward racial reconciliation. 
The Bible calls for unity, said the Rev. Byron Day, the president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.  
"The SBC has some racist people in it, but so does other denominations as well," Day said. "I am one that believes that it's better not to leave, but rather to stay and help educate other brothers and sisters about problems whether it be racism or some other issue."
Ware, who is not a well-known minister but serves at Prospect Church in Oklahoma City, told the USA TODAY NETWORK that he didn't make his decision lightly nor quickly.

The writer — a Godbeat pro of whom I am a big fan — does a nice job of quoting the pastors interviewed.

But here's my pesky question: Is this really news?

If The Oklahoman — the largest newspaper in my home state of Oklahoma — were following up on the pastor's column, it would make more sense to me. But I'm having a little trouble understanding why it's headline worthy in Tennessee? Yes, I know the Southern Baptist Convention is based in Nashville, but still, this seems like a stretch to me.

Then again, maybe — as a journalism geezer who started in this business in the days of typewriters — I just don't fully comprehend how much the landscape has changed. Maybe geography doesn't matter so much anymore. Maybe reporters must chase whatever story has the potential to gain the most clicks.

But in a perfect world, if a major news organization is going to pursue a story on race in the nation's largest Protestant denomination, my preference would be that it have a more significant peg than what one pastor wrote in a newspaper column (even if that paper happens to be the nation's most prestigious).

Also, that story might provide a little more comprehensive background on the history of race in that denomination, including the fact that the Southern Baptist Convention five years ago elected its first African-American president.

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