Thirty-two years ago James C. Hefley published his first volume of The Truth in Crisis, a six-volume series of the conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention, which includes The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.
The books were at one time the most sought-after resources in the denomination.
The November before his March 2004 death, Jim and I were talking beneath a tree in front of his family home in Hannibal, Missouri.
“Joni, when are you going to write a book?” he asked.
As we discussed the possibility that one day I would write a book to bring the controversy up to date – and he promised I would always have access to his files – I had no idea it would be the last time Jim and I would have a lucid conversation.
Since that time it seems the truth again has been in crisis in our beloved denomination. I know Jim and Marti would want me to write about what I know after spending more than 30 years providing truthful reporting for Southern Baptists.
If anything, my disclaimer is that despite the Hefley’s confidence in me, I could never be anything but their devoted student. The ultimate they both taught me about writing – more than any style, technique or format lesson – is to always seek and tell the truth, and in doing so God will be glorified.
I’m not perfect. I skirted the whole truth when I left the Florida Baptist Witness. I didn’t talk about a change in policies that hurt me and my family — and the intense and increasing pressure to conform to a non-journalistic style of seeking to promote agenda driven information, rather than news that informs Southern Baptists who might be on various sides of issues.
I didn’t talk about how, as a woman, my ministry was often taken for granted and my editorial voice limited by my gender. I was mostly silent as my heart ached when false accusations were leveled at both my husband and me for being uncooperative or unwilling to serve a new supervisor.
Since that time I have watched one of the most powerful and historic Baptist newspapers in the SBC reduced to a blog and then almost nothing at all with tens and thousands of digital news story archives discarded without accountability or explanation.
But the time for that lament is over (although I reserve the intent to write more on this later). Strong men in pulpits throughout Florida betrayed me and my ministry through backhanded and unfounded rumors. Yet more outside of Florida listened and apparently believed the misinformation even when I sought to continue ministry through a non-denominational, for-profit Christian newspaper.
To hear them now champion women is breathtakingly hypocritical. Some champion women in the bedroom, the kitchen, the nursery, and the (child’s homeschool) classroom — but rarely in the Baptist boardroom.
It might seem antithetical to the proclamation of the Gospel and the furtherance of God’s Kingdom to report the news if it paints His followers in a negative light, but as I have learned, God is glorified and His handiwork is shown when we humbly admit we are all sinners in need of God’s grace.