Organization of Church Publications Protest Baptist Suppression
NEW YORK (AP) _ An organization of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox publications has strongly protested restrictive moves on the Southern Baptist news agency and ouster orders against its top editors.
″We are alarmed that responsible and respected journalists have been penalized and dismissed for their proper reporting of the news,″ officers of The Associated Church Press said in a letter sent to officials of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The organization represents 195 periodicals of various denominations and independent religious publications.
The letter, dated Tuesday, was sent to the Rev. Morris H. Chapman, new president of the Southern Baptists, who are now controlled by a fundamentalist wing, and to its executive committee.
That committee has scheduled a special meeting in Nashville, Tenn., next Tuesday to deal with the chief editors of Baptist Press, Al Shackleford and Dan Martin, who have been put under an ultimatum to resign or be fired.
The agency, which serves 38 weeklies of the 14.9-million-member denomination and also about 400 other news outlets, has been prohibited in the meantime from carrying news of the affair.
Declaring the steps ″adversely affects the credibility of religious journalism in North America,″ Donald F. Hetzler, executive director of the transdenominational press group, and its president, Mary Lou Redding, wrote:
″What makes this situation especially regrettable is that Southern Baptist Press has earned a high degree of credibility and trust among secular press agencies for its open, balanced reporting of controversial matters.″
Chapman has declined comment on actions against the news agency editors, but said ″the feeling has surfaced ... that there seemed to be a bias that leaned toward the moderate perspective in the convention.″
The letter came as various others, including editors of Baptist weeklies across the country, decried the crackdown on the news agency that was launched by officers of the denomination’s now ruling fundamentalist officers.
Television journalist Bill Moyers, defending the journalistic integrity of Shackleford and Martin, said a key fundamentalist strategist, Houston Judge Paul Pressler, had ″shamelessly engineered″ the action against them.
In a letter to editors of Baptist newspapers, Moyers urged them ″to rise to challenge this vindictive act and the bully who is responsibile. ... He rules the Southern Baptist Convention like a swaggerring Caesar, breaking good men when it pleases him.″
Pressler, reported out of the country and unavailable for comment, is vice chairman of the denomination’s executive committee, and has frequently criticized Baptist Press.
Moyers, a lifelong Southern Baptist, said the two longtime editors were being ″dumped on the street″ because they ″refused to dishonor their calling ... and refused to be lackeys for Paul Pressler.″
Meanwhile, Nashville attorney Frank Ingraham, a Southern Baptist opponent of fundamentalist tactics, appealed to its executive committee for a fair hearing for the editors.
In a letter to the committee chairman, the Rev. Sam W. Pace of Lawton, Okla., Ingraham, protested indications that it would arbitrarily act Tuesday on a ″motion to terminate″ Shackleford and Martin ″without discussion.″
Pleading for a chance to defend them, Ingraham asked if the committee was going to deny Southern Baptists ″the opportunity to judge the reasonableness of your actions″ or ″make a display of raw power.″
″Certainly, Baptists in the pews of the churches of our convention will call you to account for these arbitrary displays of raw power,″ Ingraham wrote. ″They will ferret out those responsible and ... deal with them appropriately.″