Heading for 25th Anniversary with Accomplishments, Shortcomings


If one compares The Tennessean news story on July 29, 1991, announcing the formation of the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE) with where BCE is now, one can see abundant organizational evolution ..., Parham writes.

No mention of documentaries. No comment about broadcast TV. No reference to websites. No word about the Internet. No suggestion about networking with global Baptists. No note about race relations. No word about immigration, interfaith and incarceration.

If one compares The Tennessean news story on July 29, 1991, announcing the formation of the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE) with where BCE is now, one can see abundant organizational evolution on prioritized issues and platforms for advancing those issues.

One can see that we've remained tethered to some core concepts, such as being positive, rather than negative; working pro-actively, rather than reactively; offering careful moral reflection, rather than robotic Bible proof-texting. One can see a commitment to providing practical handles to real problems. And one can see a commitment to Baptists.

We did not foresee the abundant doors that technology would open. Nor did we anticipate that we would be better known as EthicsDaily.com than BCE.

Of course, we did expect opposition from fundamentalists. We did not calculate the opposition from moderate and liberal Baptists over issues, control, territorialism and old personal grudges.

It is certainly true that opposition accompanies opportunities, as Joel Gregory observed in his closing sermon at the 2015 Baptist World Congress in Durban.

I can attest to the truth that our opportunities have far outweighed our opposition.

Heading into our 25th year is a good time to list some accomplishments and to acknowledge some shortcomings.

Five accomplishments merit listing:

First, we have been at the forefront of advancing Baptist engagement with Muslims, a commitment one of the earliest Baptists made when he wrote King James I of England speaking up for religious liberty for Turks.

Former BWA president David Coffey has credited EthicsDaily.com for its leadership on the Baptist-Muslim engagement front. "EthicsDaily has led the way in making sure this item is on the agenda," Coffey said.

When we first ventured into this field and produced the documentary "Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims," we encountered more skepticism than opposition. Nonetheless, we did cut a path with others that many have followed.

Second, we have energetically advocated for just and kind treatment of the undocumented. "Gospel Without Borders" has been widely used in a broad range of churches and aired on TV.

In fact, the documentary was a history-making piece. For the first time ever, Catholic bishops distributed a Baptist-produced resource underwritten by a United Methodist foundation.

"I have no recollection of any Baptist-produced resource distributed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops," said renowned Baptist historian Glenn Hinson. "I think this is big news ... a breakthrough."

Third, we have retained a continuous focus on race relations, beginning at our first conference in 1992 and continuing with EthicsDaily.com articles.

"Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism" won recognitions at black film festivals, has been screened at state and national Baptist meetings and is shown in churches.

Central Baptist Theological Seminary used the documentary just last week at a special event in St. Louis.

Fourth, we have been at the leading technological edge among Baptist organizations.

We were the first organization to pursue providing fresh daily content to readers. The first to prioritize video content - Skype interviews and video clips. The first to use a website to leverage news stories and columnists from the global Baptist network.

The best example of this point is with our coverage of the Baptist World Congress. Video interviews were done and posted in record time. An abundance of photographs was posted. Our Twitter feed was continuously active. News stories were substantive, plentiful and timely.

Fifth, we have never ended a fiscal year in the red.

With these and other accomplishments, we've had disappointments, shortcomings. Five come to mind:

First, we've not prioritized fundraising to ensure that our staff had the resources to play to their full strengths and to take advantage of the abundant opportunities. We're making progress toward correcting this mistake. But we should have started years ago!

We do find ourselves up against two challenging realities on the funding front. Regrettably, a lot of Baptists expect everything to be free and assume that the "denomination" funds its affiliated organizations.

The reality is that our percentage of denominational funding has been declining for years.

Second, we've made little measurable difference on the environmental front. The environment was one of our first notes, beginning with the publication of "Loving Neighbors Across Time" (1991) and much later TheGreenBible.org.

But indifference to environmental issues and a commitment to biblical literalism over science are entrenched in our house of faith.

Third, it is disappointing that race relations among Baptists is more cosmetic than collaborative.

Make no mistake, our churches and culture have made great, positive strides, even if some talk nonstop as if America is the same Jim Crow society as it was in the 1950s.

Nonetheless, white Baptists and black Baptists are mostly segregated in church.

And while a popular cultural narrative blames the white church, the black church bears equal responsibility.

Fourth, the media saturated culture has little space for a centrist voice. We've struggled in recent years to get a hearing in the larger culture.

We had a good deal of media success when cable talk shows and newspapers sought diverse voices. That agenda has faded as media outlets have become increasingly ideological and pandered to the extremes.

Accompanying this shift has been the disappearance of religion writers at daily newspapers.

When religion gets covered by reporters without any depth of knowledge or appreciation for nuance, the centrist voice loses out.

Fifth, we have been so enamored with technology that we have ignored the power of personal contact.

We haven't been in churches saying, "hello," the way the wise ones of the past did. We knew better. We just have not done better at retaining a personal contact in churches with clergy and laity.

Twitter, Facebook, text messages and email are wonderful tools. But they don't replace the personal touch. Going forward we need to correct this mistake.

Celebrate our successes. Help us surmount our shortcomings.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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Tags: Baptist Center for Ethics, Environment, EthicsDaily.com, Immigration, Interfaith Engagement, Racism, Robert Parham


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