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Baptist Press Director Objects to ‘Fundamentalist’ Label

The director of Baptist Press refused to defend his e-mail criticizing a column on the Southern Baptist Convention’s proposed pullout of the Baptist World Alliance, saying it was not intended for public consumption.

EthicsDaily.com e-mailed <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Will Hall, vice president for news services at the SBC Executive Committee, with questions about his own earlier e-mail to an on-line academic journal. In it, Hall criticized a commentary on the SBC/BWA schism in “Sightings,” published by the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago. Among other things, Hall objected to a description of SBC leaders as “fundamentalists.” <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Hall answered EthicsDaily.com with a phone call saying the reporter did not have his permission to possess the e-mail, which he regarded as private communication and his intellectual property. Hall asked the reporter several times to confirm that he was informed of that fact, and then volunteered near the end of the conversation that he was recording the phone call.
 
Hall rebuffed subsequent e-mails asking whether his questions implied a threat of legal action and requesting a copy of his tape of the phone call. “Move on,” he said in a message late Tuesday afternoon.
 
EthicsDaily.com had received a forwarded copy of the e-mail attributed to Hall, which criticized a column by Richard Pierard, professor of history emeritus at Indiana State University and general editor of a forthcoming centennial history of the BWA.
 
Hall’s e-mail chastised Pierard’s March 4 column in “Sightings.” In the column, Pierard criticized the SBC’s proposed pullout of the BWA, blaming the schism on “fundamentalist hardliners” on a nine-man committee studying the SBC/BWA relationship.
 
Hall said the writer “shows a lack of knowledge (or intent to deceive)” about the six-year process leading to the recent Executive Committee vote recommending that Southern Baptists withdraw from the BWA. The move “in reality reflects a deliberative decision by Southern Baptists to represent themselves directly to other Baptist bodies rather than through the control of the organization of the BWA,” he said.
 
Hall called the column a political exchange rather than an academic one, and said Pierard appealed to emotion in using the term “fundamentalist hardliners” to “describe good men of faith.”
 
“I know personally that Pierard’s sweeping insult is not true,” the e-mail said. Hall cited the Associated Press stylebook caution against use of the word fundamentalist because it is “pejorative” and “should only be used if a ‘group applies the word to itself.'”
 
The actual wording of the AP stylebook’s guidelines for use of the term “fundamentalist” is as follows:
 
“The word gained usage in the early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. In recent years, however, fundamentalism has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.
 
“In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”
 
EthicsDaily.com asked Hall with which part of the exception phrase “groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians” that he disagreed.
 
The EthicsDaily.com e-mail pointed out that Hall misquoted the stylebook by omitting the words “in general” and adding “only,” and asked whether Pierard’s usage in an opinion column on the SBC/BWA issue would be appropriate in that light.
 
The EthicsDaily.com reporter also said he doesn’t know all nine members on the study committee but asked that if Paul Pressler, a co-founder of the SBC’s “conservative resurgence” reform movement “isn’t a ‘hardliner’ when it comes to doctrinal conformity, I’d like to know who is.”
 
The Baptist Center for Ethics’ executive director suggested previously that one motive behind a suggested renaming of the Southern Baptist Convention is to soften the group’s image as a fundamentalist denomination.
 
Addressing the Mainstream Baptist Convocation Feb. 27 in Nashville, the BCE’s Robert Parham described fundamentalism as “the first dirty word of the 21st century.”
 
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Parham said, “Most Americans will no longer tolerate extremism.”
 
“SBC leaders know they have a name problem,” Parham said, referring to a recent proposal by SBC president Jack Graham calling for a study about the feasibility of changing the convention’s name.
 
A Baptist Press reporter interviewed Parham at the Mainstream Baptist Convocation on Saturday, Feb. 28, but as of this Wednesday (March 10) the SBC news service had yet to run a story on the event. Hall did not answer questions about whether Baptist Press planned to publish stories about the convocation and, if not, why.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.