Among the many ways Americans have anointed ourselves as armchair quarterbacks, some have determined they should be editor in chief of Baptist News Global. Not for the first time, but with renewed vigor this week.
Some folks — mainly those with a certain political agenda within the Southern Baptist Convention — have taken after us already this week for publishing an article about a first-person account published by Jennifer Buck about past troubles in her marriage with Texas pastor Tom Buck.
Reaction to this article was trending on Twitter today as a campaign mounted for us to “take down” the article some found uncomfortable or harmful.
Let me first address why we won’t take down any article that has been published and then give some more specifics on this article.
Some folks apparently think we haven’t given complete consideration to everything we publish, that we somehow just casually hit the “publish” button without counting the cost or double-checking our sources. Let me assure you that is never the case. Our writers and this editor often agonize over every word choice, every detail of stories we know are going to be controversial. Changes are made, language fine-tuned, caveats inserted where needed.
Other folks seem to think our writers have free access to post whatever they like, which also isn’t true. Our board of directors has invested one person, me, with the responsibility to edit and approve every word we publish. Unless I am on vacation and a trusted editor is filling in for me, nothing is published on our site that I haven’t read, edited and approved.
Because so much care goes into the creation of our content, we are not going to be scared by angry readers and a few bullies who want us to bend to their will. We are not cowards who will fold when critical emails and tweets come in.
What we will do, however, is correct articles when we have made factual errors. It is one thing for a reader to demand, “Take down that article now!” than to say, “Let me show you where there is a documented error in what you have written.” We respond well to the second but not to the first.
That brings us to the specifics of this week’s article written by our Clemons Fellow, David Bumgardner.
Most of the serious criticism we have received has gone something like this: “Jennifer Buck is the victim in this story, and you are exploiting her for sensationalism or to attack her husband. You have taken away her agency.”
“We quoted her own words from a very public post written by her, not by us. Since when is quoting a victim’s own words taking away her agency?”
To which my response is: We did not publish any part of her story that she did not already make public. We quoted her own words from a very public post written by her, not by us. Since when is quoting a victim’s own words taking away her agency?
The fact is that we chose not to publish a different version of her story that was sent to us and other media outlets two weeks ago without her permission. That would have been a more sensational story, to be sure, but we determined it was not our place to tell a victim’s story — even in her own words — when that story had not been made public. Even though by her own admission she and her husband have shared this story multiple times with their congregation and with others in counseling settings.
By the way, where is the outcry against whoever it was who created burner email and Twitter accounts in order to threaten Tom Buck with publication of his wife’s own words? And for that matter, where is the outcry against Tom Buck’s long-term pattern of angry tweets against all manner of other people?
So why did we deem it newsworthy to publish an article about the first-person account published on another website by a prominent pastor’s wife? It is newsworthy for several reasons, including (1) The pastor involved has been a frequent critic of others and has made incendiary comments about the SBC’s sexual abuse investigation; (2) the SBC is in the middle of an intensive reckoning about abuse; (3) Jennifer Buck’s logic is an interesting insight into those who believe wives should remain in difficult or abusive marriages in order to bring glory to God; (4) some anonymous person or persons are out to get Tom Buck and embarrass him, further poisoning the already mean-spirited conversation within SBC politics and theology.
In consultation with the abuse survivor community, we did not take the bait of the anonymous tipster who wanted us to publish Jennifer Buck’s first draft of her first five years of rocky marriage. But once the conversation went public — with Jennifer Buck’s full agency and intention — we determined this was a news story that needed to be told. And that decision has been affirmed by other prominent survivors.
“It is our agenda, in the words of an old Baptist editor, to ‘trust the Lord and tell the people.’”
It is astounding to me that in the toxic sewer of SBC politics, some of the very same people who were upset about the mistreatment of Ed Litton and Willy Rice by the far-right Calvinist wing of the SBC suddenly think BNG should give those right-wing critics a pass. It appears that within SBC leadership, BNG as an outside and independent news service is so threatening that we must be the bad guys in all situations.
That doesn’t bother me. It is not our agenda to make anyone in the SBC like us. It is our agenda, in the words of an old Baptist editor, to “trust the Lord and tell the people.”
Our vision at BNG is to create “change-making conversations.” And those kinds of conversations are not always easy to read and may not fit any person’s desired agenda.
We are always open to correct misstatements of facts, but we will not be bullied into removing an entire article because it contains inconvenient truth.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.