Months ago I received an unsolicited and very unexpected text message.
Its warning was clear and yet I had done nothing to draw the attention of a colleague late on a Thursday night, clearly after hours, and when I was enjoying a meal with my family.
My transgression, it appeared, was to write a rather lengthy and rambling analysis about events that had taken placed weeks before at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas, and finally put them into a historic and current context. A sort of “state of the denomination,” if you will, released on my newly published website.
“The Truth IS in Crisis” was meant to cause people to ask questions about the Southern Baptist Convention and its leaders. As a reporter and editor for more than two decades, I had finally felt compelled to write on subjects of which I have particular insight and information.
The text followed a series of messages from earlier in June when an employee of the North American Mission Board was directing me to the correct hotel location of the NAMB full board meeting hours after I had been given a runaround about the location – following a terse email.
It’s frankly disappointing to think any trustees duly elected and entrusted with an SBC entity (or its employees) would operate with anything less than full transparency.
Perhaps more on that later.
But, for now, the message:
“Joni – I think you have put yourself into a potentially libelous situation. I am asking you and encouraging you in the strongest way possible to remove what you have posted about Kevin. I wish you had called to discuss this with me ahead of time.”
For starters, the timing of the TEXT MESSAGE, not email. I rarely correspond by text with this person, or any person, and in fact, have only in case of urgency – like trying to discover the location for a meeting that should have been well-established, but somehow escaped publication and was not available in the SBC newsroom.
The offending text is marked 8:38 p.m. (EST), June 26, 2018. This was just hours after I published my news analysis, “Was SBC #metoo resolution on abuse a band aid for larger issues?”
To “ask” or “encourage” me “in the strongest way possible” to remove a story about “Kevin,” is somewhat confusing. I would never presume to refer to Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, as “Kevin,” but instead, most know I reference people by their titles or by “Bro.”
This only leads me to believe the person was on very familiar terms with “Kevin” himself. To begin the message by telling me I might have put myself into a “potentially libelous situation,” actually made me laugh. Sort of. The sinister sounding legalese would be more humorous if I hadn’t already endured threats and intimidation by my own board at the now defunct Florida Baptist Witness, Inc. (newspaper) just a few years ago after voluntarily resigning.
Finally, there was the bit about calling someone to discuss information that has been published and online for more than a decade. None of the information that I used about Kevin Ezell is new. What was new was my informed analysis, the climate, and the remark concerning the resolution on abuse by the chairman of the resolutions committee.
It is time for Southern Baptists to be aware good people are being threatened. Intimidation is cloaked by honey-tongued individuals who warn people to “pray” and not “gossip” so the Kingdom is not hurt.
People are banished from social media accounts of highly compensated SBC leaders and pastors and those with influence use a newfound love of public relations to bandage over a once blessed missions powerhouse which is hemorrhaging and ill.
Like an ousted pastor once told me (that interview never saw the light of day); people who don’t know God will think more positively about honest people who point out the sin in their own midst than people who act as if they are perfect.
Stop with the slick, shiny, crunchy granola façade before it’s too late. Stop with the platitudes and the half-baked apologies and knocking knees.
Our children and our grandchildren deserve better. We deserve better.
Our apologies Joni on behalf of Southern Baptists who appreciate truth being told. We decry this type of secret, cowardly threat meant to silence, intimidate and be a financial threat to you and John.
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Thank you Bro. Will. God is good, all the time. Some leaders in our SBC have no idea how much they have wrought, or do they? I’m ever hopeful they will come under conviction to do the right thing.