Race and Southern Baptists II: Why not cover the national meeting of black SBC leaders?

If you've been reading this blog all week, you may have noticed an emerging theme.

Julia Duin started things off with a post about how a Religion News Service column about LGBTQ issues and the work of the Rev. Eugene Peterson -- a mainline Protestant author who is popular with evangelicals -- started a digital media storm in news coverage.

The RNS column contained valid news material, but it was clearly a personal column by the pro-gay-rights evangelical Jonathan Merritt. As the news story escalated, Merritt wrote an even more personal second column.

So note that equation: We had an editorial column that made hard news, which was then framed again with more editorial material.

Our own Bobby Ross, Jr., carried on later in the week with a post -- "Race and Southern Baptists: This is why it's so hard to tell difference between opinion, news these days" -- about how an op-ed editorial in The New York Times ended up inspiring hard news coverage in The Nashville Tennessean. The Times piece by the Rev. Lawrence Ware of Oklahoma State University focused on his decision to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, primarily because of differences over the Black Lives Matter movement, LGBTQ issues and an awkward one-day glitch in efforts to pass an SBC resolution condemning the alt-right.

Yes, Nashville is the home of national SBC headquarters. But Ross wanted to know why this New York Times editorial piece by a part-time Oklahoma pastor was a hook for prominent hard-news coverage in Nashville as opposed, let's say, to newspapers in Oklahoma.

I say "amen" to all of that. Now I would like to add a question or two of my own.

First of all, I was interested in knowing if Ware was -- as implied by the Times placing a bright national spotlight on his views -- a major leader among the growing network of African-American churches in the SBC. Does he lead a well-known church? After all, in his op-ed, Ware noted:

I’ve discussed my concerns with many other black ministers my age, and virtually all of us have questioned our membership. At least five of them have quietly left the convention over the past year.

Now, the Times team simply noted that Ware is "co-director of the Center for Africana Studies at Oklahoma State University and the diversity coordinator for its philosophy department."

I kept looking for his church connection. Finally, I found some biography material at the Religious Socialism website of the Democratic Socialists of America. It added this helpful information:

Rev. Lawrence Ware is an ordained minister and serves the Prospect Church as the Pastor of Christian Education. He is a frequent contributor to the publications The Democratic Left, The Huffington Post, and Tikkun.  He has also been a commentator on race for the Huffington Post Live, CNN, and NPR's Talk of the Nation.

Ware is, apparently, either a part-time minister or a volunteer at Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, which appears to be a mid-sized congregation. The church's online history page notes that in 2000 the congregation's leader, the Rev. Lee E. Cooper, Jr., became the "first African American Board member to preach at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma." The Tennessean reports that this congregation is linked to SBC, although I could not find that on the church website.

In other words, I think it is safe to say that Ware's profile is higher among scribes with Religious Socialism, The Democratic Left, The Huffington Post, Tikkun, CNN and NPR than it is in the national network of black Southern Baptist leaders.

So was his op-ed major news in Nashville and elsewhere?

I think his remarks could be part of a valid report and, frankly, the Tennessean story -- as Bobby noted -- talked to some very representative black SBC leaders. That's not my issue.

I just wanted to note something ironic. The latest online Baptist Press offerings note that, right now, the SBC is holding a rather symbolic and well-timed conference. The BP release opens like this:

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP) -- Southern Baptist African American pastor Ryan Rice, founder and leader of Life Church in New Orleans, is experiencing the first Black Church Leadership and Family Conference of his 30-some years.
"To see other pastors who look like me ... and have flourished in their families and their ministries -- that's been a huge blessing and an encouragement," Rice told Baptist Press ... on the second day of the conference scheduled through July 21 at the Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.
Rice connected with the Southern Baptist Convention when looking for a partner to help him plant Life Church in the Algiers community of New Orleans three years ago and said he is becoming increasingly involved in Southern Baptist life. At Ridgecrest, he has already established connections he considers valuable to the life of his ministry.
"It's been the relationships that I've been able to develop, even in a short 24 hours' span of time, and just the real nuggets of wisdom that I've gleaned from other pastors who've been doing ministry longer than me, and who've given their heart, their soul," Rice said in reflecting on the most valuable aspects of the conference.

OK, this event is taking place in my neck of the woods -- in the mountains of Western North Carolina (and I live in East Tennessee). Ridgecrest is just down the mountain from the Rev. Billy Graham's house.

In other words, this national event for black SBC leaders is a moderate drive from Nashville, the SBC headquarter and, thus, the newsroom of The Tennessean.

If a New York Times editorial by an academic diversity leader like Ware -- who may be known on the journalistic left, but probably not among SBC leaders -- is big news, might the same be true of a nearby meeting of 200 black SBC leaders from a network of 4,000 churches across the United States?

Will the SBC leaders who are building black and interracial churches -- meeting within automobile range of a Nashville newsroom -- be worth as much local Tennessean ink as an editorial in the great Gray Lady of New York?

Let's watch for the news coverage of the Ridgecrest conference. OK?

FIRST IMAGE: From the Reformed African American Network site.

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