On July 12, a group of eight Baptist leaders from the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA) who were apparently fed up with what they called "buzzard politics" from The Baptist Message, wrote, signed, and posted an open complaint on the NOBA website. Entitled "Which Way Forward: Unity or Division?" the eight men noted specifically, "We are troubled by the critical editorials in our state Baptist paper against SBC agency heads David Platt and Russell Moore."
Making the complaints into a call for unity, the associational article indicated what appears to be an anti-Calvinistic bias they perceive behind the so-called negative editorials. "Within the past few years, Louisiana College was often in the news with stories about professors who were 'let go' because they were Reformed-leaning… A few in our state have developed a reputation for being inhospitable toward Reformed pastors, professors, and denominational leaders, with assertions that they are prepared to split our Convention over this issue."
One gets the impression that the signatories believe The Baptist Message may be posting stories "against" Russell Moore and David Platt not so much because of legitimate criticism of their respective leadership roles, rather because Platt and Moore are Calvinists. Unfortunately, the NOBA leaders cite no specifics from which to infer any tangible conclusions.
Even so, after describing the kind of "positive leaders" they desire, the NOBA article makes a bold demand: 'We tire of "buzzard" politics and editorials directed against our agency presidents. We want them stopped.'
Take careful notice of the last sentence: We want them stopped.
Eight leaders within a major Baptist association definitively call on a denominational state paper to stop publishing news and editorial stories they find objectionable. I remain unaware of a clearer example calling for absolute censorship of a news agency in my lifetime.
What is more, this call for censorship comes on the heels of a five-minute exhortation at the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention by Russell Moore pleading with Southern Baptists about the freedom of speech and religion that belongs to us all, including advocates of the Islamic faith.
So let me see if I am understanding this correctly.
Muslims have freedom of speech and religion but The Baptist Message editor does not? We want them [him] stopped?
Where's Bart Barber, the three ERLC fellows, and even Russell Moore who in unison went crazy bananas a few weeks ago over a piece in The Christian Index they perceived as threatening the historic Baptist conviction of liberty of conscience when now Baptist leaders of a major Baptist state association call for censorship of a Baptist newspaper? We want them stopped. Where is the passionate, convictional concern over Baptists now demanding Baptist journalists cease publishing articles they perceive objectionable?
Also know the eight members who signed the article calling for censorship of the Baptist Message are hardly neutral voices. Jack Hunter, Executive Director of NOBA, hosted Russell Moore as the leader of 2015 Spring Meeting of the association (see graphic above).
The other seven signatories make up the Administrative Committee of the New Orleans association.
Is this more top-down-rule shenanigans at play among Southern Baptists?
Are these men representative of Louisiana Baptists? Of even New Orleans Baptists? We don't know. We only know the statement represents the Administrative Committee of the New Orleans Baptist Association.
Even more, two signatories merit a special note--Fred Luter and David Crosby. While Fred Luter's resources are readily available on the ERLC website, David Crosby has been an ERLC Leadership Council member since January 15, two weeks before Crosby personally wrote a critical piece against Will Hall, Editor of The Baptist Message, wherein he accused Hall of "maligning" Dr. Moore. "We should resist the temptation to regard with suspicion those who differ with us on political and social issues. Russell Moore is faithful to the gospel. He speaks and writes with clarity and conviction. He is one of us, and he deserves our continued support and engagement."
Two ironies remain striking pertaining to Crosby's criticism toward Hall.
First and most obvious is, if Hall was wrong to publicly criticize Moore or "regard" him "with suspicion," what makes Crosby right to publicly criticize Hall regarding him with suspicion? Hall also is a public denominational leader. If Crosby thinks leaders of entities are immune to criticism and rather should be supported with positive affirmation, why should he have freedom to criticize a denominational leader with disparaging remarks instead of positive affirmation? Shouldn't the leader of a state entity (i.e. news agency) be as immune to criticism as the leader of a national entity (i.e. IMB or ERLC)? Apparently, not according to Crosby.
The second irony concerns the questions Hall raised in his piece which "troubled" the New Orleans leaders. Hall's questioning of Russell Moore had little to do with Moore's views on politics and certainly nothing to do with Moore's Calvinism. Rather Hall questioned Moore's behavior and cynical attitude toward those who disagreed with him on politics and politicians; indeed, a similar, if not identical, concern the NOBA leaders raised against Hall! Hall cited examples of Moore "disrespecting" others, "disdaining liberty," snubbing Southern Baptists, and using a "double standard" in the way he treated different politicians. But rather than challenge Hall's examples as claims about Moore not well-taken, they simply ignore Hall's evidence and categorically declare him a hostile witness.
Nor does the signed article from Moore's close circle of friends demonstrate either Will Hall or The Baptist Message is publishing articles that are needlessly divisive, negative, or unworthy of a Baptist news agency rather than articles they personally find objectionable. Unless Dr. Moore's supporters can show the Baptist Message is publishing falsehoods, innuendo, or worthless gossip having no basis in reality, Louisiana Baptists should stand up to the mic and tell Dr. Moore's friends to back down. We have no personal moral authority, sound ethical basis, or legitimate biblical mandate to demand that our journalists only publish information that is universally perceived as positive, up-building, and unobjectionable.
Make no mistake.
The article written and signed by the Administrative Committee of the New Orleans Baptist Association remains little more than Russell Moore's close friends and ERLC council member(s) circling up around him for support.
Please know that's surely acceptable so far as it goes.
However, it means nothing so far as Louisiana Baptists as a whole is concerned.
And, the truth is, it may mean nothing so far as New Orleans Baptists are concerned. The article is the opinion of the Administrative Committee of the New Orleans Baptist Association all members of whom are personal supporters and friends of Dr. Moore.
But be assured.
It makes a heck of a difference so far as freedom of the press is concerned when associational leaders demand they want the press censored.
We want them stopped.
Let that sink way, way down.