When I started reading the story on the front page of The State this morning about a proposal to change the name of the denomination from “Southern Baptist,” I assumed that the reason would be the convention’s roots in the pro-slavery cause.
So I was taken aback when the reason given in the AP story was concerns “that their name is too regional and impedes the evangelistic faith’s efforts to spread the Gospel worldwide.” That seemed an awfully vanilla way to put it.
I read on, expecting to find the part that dealt with the convention’s founding in 1845… and it wasn’t there at all. No mention of why Southern Baptists had split from other Baptists.
Then, when I went to find the story online to link to it in this post, I found the missing passage:
The Southern Baptist Convention formed in 1845 when it split with northern Baptists over the question of whether slave owners could be missionaries. Draper said that history has left some people to have negative associations with the name.
AP stories are generally written in the “inverted pyramid” style, to make it easy for copy editors to cut from the bottom in making a story fit on a print page. But sometimes that doesn’t work. Sometimes a copy editor needs to read the whole story and think about what parts the reader can’t do without if he or she is to understand what’s going on. This is one of those cases.
The omission is more startling since someone thought to add a paragraph at the end telling how many Southern Baptists there are in South Carolina.
Of course, the blame doesn’t accrue entirely to the editor or page designer. This was a badly written AP story. The origins of the “Southern” identity should have been up top, rather than in the 14th graf. It was essential to understanding what the story was about.
Now, let me add that I don’t say any of this to condemn the convention, or the independent churches that belong to it. I do not mean to besmirch today’s Southern Baptists. My parents are Southern Baptists; I was baptized in Thomas Memorial Baptist Church.
But to fail to mention where the convention’s name came from in a story about a discussion of changing the name is like writing a history of Spanish Catholicism without mentioning the Inquisition, or the persecution of Jews and Muslims under Their Most Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabela. Actually, you could even say it’s worse than that in terms of relevance, since the story was specifically about the name.
Given The State‘s usual interest in the history of slavery and Jim Crow (particularly during Black History Month), I was surprised by this omission.