A week ago my wife and I decided to join her family at the North Georgia State Fair. With a looming vacation to Disney World next week, it seemed like a reasonable litmus test of our 4-year-old’s patience and willingness to ride the rides.
Somewhere between my turkey leg and funnel cake, my father-in-law had stopped at a nearby booth to engage in some sort of fishing game. He returned triumphant, carrying a plastic bag with a small multicolored goldfish as his prize. Before I could completely process what was happening, he fished around in his pocket for another dollar and headed back toward the fishing booth. Five minutes later he was back, showing our son the goldfish he had won.
I think that by most accounts goldfish won at carnival booths have a life expectancy of either one week or 13 years. Before I could pray for a quick and painless death for the creature, our son had christened him “Manny” and a bond was formed. It was only later, while waiting outside the pet store for my wife to find an appropriate aquarium that I started thinking about the benefits of pet ownership.
Pets teach responsibility. They have to be fed, watered, walked, brushed and combed. Their water or litter boxes periodically have to be changed. They give us a sense that we can be connected to something – something that we can care for and perhaps even love. While our 4-year-old made silly voices in the back, periodically saying “Manny” with varying inflections, I seized the moment to check my email and Facebook, a confessed addiction.
I was blithely checking the status updates of Facebook “friends” when I came across one from a guy who had preceded me at Shorter College and was now pastoring a church in the rural South.
It was an RT – a “re-tweet” of a twitter “tweet” from someone who serves as the editor of a large Southern Baptist state convention newspaper. Roughly, the “re-tweet” said that after the International Olympic Committee had failed to be persuaded by President Obama, he should head next to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
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It was snarky, possibly clever, but also egregious. This was not a personal twitter account, but a name which claims the role he holds at the paper. But it was also not the first offense.
For the last several years, the “editorial page” has entered a spiral of talk-radio regurgitations, most often as inspiration for righteous indignation or evangelical zeal. This month’s issue highlights global threats against America (including a critique of “Muslim militants” only to drop the phrase militants when speaking of “celebrations after September 11”) as a justification for a stronger domestic mission emphasis.
It would be easy to hang this on a rogue editor – someone who has simply gone off about the things that annoy, frighten or outrage. But what about the people who allow this kind of rhetoric to continue? Are they not, in some way, complicit? I responded to my friend’s “re-tweet” by calling it a question of responsibility.
Inasmuch as my 4-year-old needs to feed his fish every day, those in positions of leadership within any stripe of God’s glorious church have a responsibility to tell the truth as they see it as it pertains to their calling.
There was a day when this state newspaper was highly regarded for objectivity and diversity of content. Now it risks descending into political propaganda masquerading as religious pablum. I am told by countless others that this has been the case in many other states, often as the denominational guard has shifted in the polarizing years of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Yet even as papers were under the influence of both conservative and moderate editors, there was a sense of journalistic integrity – even in the editorials – that suggested a faith that looked critically at world events and sought to discern one’s role as a citizen of America and of God’s Kingdom.
To confuse one’s political beliefs with one’s spiritual calling is dangerous, especially among Baptists, who so often laud ourselves as the champions of the separation of church and state. Those who take seriously this call see it as a responsibility. Those who do not shame the opportunity, as one who wantonly leaves one’s pet untended.