NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) — At their semi-annual meeting April 29-May 1, directors of Associated Baptist Press agreed to enter into a new educational and fund-raising partnership with two sister Baptist organizations.
The board also voted to suspend publication of FaithWorks, a lifestyle magazine for young Christians, while ABP negotiates with an ecumenical network of young leaders to create a new magazine with a broader potential subscriber base.
Board members approved entering into a partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and the Georgia-based Baptists Today news journal, pending final approval by both of those organizations.
The agencies would provide churches with educational materials about the historical Baptist and biblical emphasis on religious freedom and freedom of speech. The effort would include joint appeals to Baptist congregations for annual offerings or church budget line-item contributions that the three agencies would then divide evenly.
The plan has been dubbed the First Freedoms Project, in reference to the two freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment — freedom of the press and freedom of religion — for which the three agencies advocate.
“The First Freedoms Project is a great way to raise the visibility of our cherished founding freedoms in local churches,” said John Pierce, Baptists Today's editor, in a statement.
ABP's Executive Editor Greg Warner said the project's purposes are twofold — “to combat rampant ignorance and apathy about the First Amendment and religious liberty among Baptists” and as a way also “to combat the financial complacency of those who take for granted that these three First Amendment ministries will always be around or can exist without a unified funding commitment.”
Brent Walker, the Baptist Joint Committee's executive director, said the plan would help churches “to focus on our fundamental freedoms and to support our efforts to preserve them.”
The organizations plan to announce details of the proposed First Freedoms Project in June.
Associated Baptist Press created FaithWorks in 1998 as a way to reach beyond the wire service's traditional constituency of denominational publications and secular newspaper religion editors. Although the magazine won positive reviews and several honors for its design and writing, subscription and advertising revenue never kept pace with the expenses involved in producing and distributing it.
The directors' motion authorized ABP to entertain a proposal from the Emergent network on transitioning FaithWorks into Emergent's official publication. Emergent is a nationwide network of young evangelical Christian leaders from several denominational and non-denominational backgrounds that bills itself as “the leading network of the emerging church.”
Last year, Emergent's leaders initiated discussions with ABP's Warner about using FaithWorks' existing production staff and subscriber list to create a new magazine for the movement. An executive summary describes the project — tentatively titled This magazine — as “a new lifestyle magazine for Christians who are engaging the emerging culture” and says its target audience will be adults age 25 to 40.
The ABP directors also gave approval to a final 2004 budget anticipating $521,000 in revenues, which would be an increase over 2003 revenues of $473,000. The budget does not include any increases for new staff positions or raises.
The news service reached its revenue peak at $677,000 in 2000 but was hit hard by the recent economic downturn and decline in charitable giving following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. After being forced to cut one staff position in late 2002 and postpone filling another in 2003, giving began to rebound in 2004.
“I have a sense this week and in recent weeks that we have turned something of a corner. We have stabilized ABP,” Warner told directors in his editor's report. “We've begun that slow work of revitalizing and re-invigorating our ministry.”
However, Warner said the agency must cultivate its focus “on the kind of reporting that has distinguished ABP” in both the Christian and secular journalism worlds — namely, aggressively and fairly reporting stories on issues that affect Baptist individuals, churches and denominations. “We have an unambiguous commitment to tell the truth, unfettered by denominational obligations, political goals, or commercial motives,” Warner said.
He noted that ABP editors and writers have never felt any pressure in their journalistic decisions from denominational agencies, board members, donors or any other outside group. However, Warner added, the agency is always at risk of succumbing to what he called “two insidious forms of censorship.” One is voluntarily “shying away from stories that tend to inflame” either friends or foes. But he said another form of self-censorship is even more dangerous — avoiding aggressive reporting because of financial or time constraints.
In a national news agency thinly staffed and funded on a shoestring, “the 'tyranny of the urgent' … crowds out the truly important,” Warner said.
In other action at the meeting, directors bestowed their 10th annual Religious Freedom Award on Charles Haynes, a First Amendment expert at the Arlington, Va.-based Freedom Forum. They also gave their Founders Award to Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., for that congregation's longtime financial support of ABP.
— Rob Marus is Washington bureau chief for ABP