This story was edited after posting to correct an error in the 13th paragraph.
By Bob Allen
Baptists Today — an autonomous, national news journal rooted in the Southern Baptist Convention “holy war” in the 1980s — has “a serious cash flow problem that must be addressed soon and well,” Editor John Pierce said in an editorial in the November 2015 issue.
“Not being an alarmist,” the 15-year editor said he wrote readers with “hesitation and hope,” but in the end “the reality of our current financial condition needs to be communicated widely.”
“We got behind in renewing and enlisting annual pledges that have been the lifeblood of this publication for many years,” Pierce said. “While many supporters have been very faithful and generous, the gifts received in recent months have not been enough to cover our expenses. Therefore, we have depleted our reserves.”
Pierce said Baptists Today has already reduced operational costs “to the bare minimum.”
“Honestly, any further cuts would harm the quality or our work or the persons who do it,” he said.
Pierce appealed to readers for immediate gifts, three-year pledges, monthly contributions and estate planning gifts.
Baptists Today is currently in the midst of a three-year campaign titled “Together — We Can!” which seeks to raise $1.5 million for ongoing operations, build reserves to $800,000 and grow endowment to $3 million.
According to the Macon, Ga.,-based nonprofit’s 2014 IRS 990 form, Baptists Today took in total revenue of $1.2 million in 2013, including $800,000 from contributions and grants.
Originally named SBC Today, the magazine’s founding editor Walker Knight wrote in a chapter about Baptists Today in Walter Shurden’s 1992 Mercer Press history The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement, the autonomous national newspaper was established to “counterbalance the propaganda and bogus charges leveled against denominational employees, seminary faculty and other longtime SBC leaders.”
In his editorial in the inaugural issue in April 1983, Knight — after nearly 34 years in denominational journalism including 24 years at the SBC Home (now North American) Mission Board — described the need for a national publication “for the discussion of issues which deals with the entire spectrum” limited by neither the geographical bias of Baptist state newspapers nor the narrow scope of magazines produced by SBC entities.
“Being autonomous, SBC Today can best serve Southern Baptists in presenting news and opinion,” Knight wrote. “All publications, religious or secular, are pressured at times to report something less than the truth or full disclosure. Those of us within the profession of journalism can never be so arrogant as to feel we always achieve such reporting fully or fairly; however, that is the criterion by which we wish to be judged.”
Under the second editor, Jack Harwell, the paper’s name changed in 1991 to Baptists Today, reflecting a diversifying audience of churches retreating from sole identification with the SBC by forming the Alliance of Baptists in 1987 and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 1991.
In 1992 the CBF began paying for a page in each issue of Baptists Today for commentary in the Formations Sunday school lessons published by Smyth & Helwys Publishing, a privately owned alternative to the SBC Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources) launched in 1990.
In June 2011 Baptists Today started producing its own Sunday school lessons, written by Campbell University professor and former Biblical Recorder Editor Tony Cartledge, under a new imprint, Nurturing Faith, and expanded into publishing books the following year.
A collaboration with FaithLab, a creative services firm led by former Smyth & Helwys vice president David Cassady, the Nurturing Faith subsidiary also provides educational experiences like an upcoming trip to Turkey and Greece next May, planned in collaboration with Campbell University Divinity School.
Despite current challenges, Pierce said the publication still serves a continuing need.
“Honestly, our circle of Baptists is not as large as those who have vacated historic Baptist understandings and practices of freedom,” he editorialized. “But that makes our cause even more important.”
“Be assured that, with your help, we are envisioning and planning for a bright future,” Pierce continued. “Our ministry continues to evolve as times and technology change. We are hard at work in charting a course that is faithful and forward-looking.”