Here’s a sure way to know Southern Baptist institutions and some Baptist universities don’t think they’re accountable to anyone outside their inner circle: The perpetual refusal to comment on, or even acknowledge, questions from media.
A year ago this fall, Samford University was in the headlines constantly for tightening its opposition to LGBTQ inclusion. University administrators, including the president, steadfastly refused to comment on the situation, to answer questions, to clarify. They went radio silent.
They did so because they could. The message these silent administrators sent was that the only constituency that really mattered to them already knew what they needed to know. There was no need to educate the general public, the person in the pew. Just keep quiet, and this will all blow over and average people will forget what happened.
The Samford administrators might well have learned this media management technique from the folks one state away at the SBC North American Mission Board, where “no comment” ought to be emblazoned on the stationery.
The last time any media outlet got a meaningful statement from NAMB on anything was … well, so long ago no one can remember.
Yet accusation on top of accusation has been leveled against NAMB’s president and leadership — not by external critics but by pastors and leaders inside the SBC. And there is never an explanation of anything. Just smug silence.
Now, it appears Lifeway Christian Resources has joined the “no comment” crowd. Despite a week of intense controversy over an amicus brief filed against a sexual abuse survivor in Kentucky, allegedly orchestrated by Lifeway and its attorneys, there has been no explanation given, no comment offered, no public statement.
“Apparently, Lifeway leaders believe they, too, are not accountable to anyone.”
Apparently, Lifeway leaders believe they, too, are not accountable to anyone. Despite the fact that their entire enterprise is dependent upon customers — churches and church leaders who have choices about where to purchase books and curriculum.
The “no comment” strategy only works as long as constituents allow it to work. And in the case of the SBC and universities like Samford, those constituents don’t seem to be worked up enough about the lack of accountability to demand changes.
“No comment” is one of the worst public relations strategies ever invented. People who actually work in media relations will testify to this. One of the oldest truths of public relations and of crisis communications is this: You are always better off telling your own story first rather than allowing someone else to frame it for you.
When you sit silently and let critics frame the case against you, you’re always one step behind and you’re always reacting rather than acting. Even if you think you’re winning.
The sad thing about the SBC is not enough people seem to care what the story really is. They’ll just keep sending their money, sending their kids, and then wonder why all the headlines are so negative.
This silence is not golden.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director of Baptist News Global. He is the author of Honestly: Telling the Truth About the Bible and Ourselves.
Samford, how long will you remain silent? | Opinion by Mark Wingfield