I have long been interested in the role that state Baptist papers have played in our denomination’s history. A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to present a conference paper titled “Baptist State Papers: One Source of Piety Among 19th Century Baptists in the South.” I have also written a couple of short articles for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina on Thomas Meredith, the founding editor of the Biblical Recorder (see here and here) and have worked periodically on some research related to Jesse Mercer’s editorship of the Christian Index. I hope to one day write something of substance related to the history of state papers.
Baptist state papers have changed much since the antebellum era. All of them are now officially tied to their respective conventions (early on they were automous, typically owned by the editor). For the last century of so most of their pages have been dedicated to public relations rather than true journalism (though state paper coverage of the GCR and the Clark Logan situation has shown that journalism has not totally disappeared). With a few happy exceptions (kudos to the Southern Baptist Texan), theological engagement is virtually absent, and when it does crop up, it tends to be almost exclusively focused on current debates like women in ministry and Calvinism. Rare indeed is the article or editorial defending and/or offering instruction regarding sound doctrine just ’cause.
Despite these changes, state papers continue to play an important role in Baptist life. It has long been my hope that more state periodicals would combine the emphases of the 19th century with the technology of the 21st century. Perhaps that would lead to the type of loyalty grassroots Baptists directed toward their papers for most of the 20th century. I’ve already seen this beginning to happen, both among some of the papers I named above and among a handful of other state papers as well.
By now most of our readers know that Doug Baker has been named the new executive editor of the Baptist Messenger, the state paper serving the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The Messenger enjoys one of the widest subscription lists among the state papers and continues to instill a fierce loyalty among many Oklahoma Baptists, despite the fact that the BGCO is not among our largest state conventions. Doug’s first editorial has just been published, and it’s a good one. The title is “Baptist Journalism, Is There a Future?” Count me as one Baptist who certainly hopes there is, and I trust that if the Messenger (and her sister papers) embrace the vision that Doug articulates in his inaugural editorial, that future will be bright indeed.