Telling good news

In the last 22 years, I have probably heard more often than any other the exhortation/criticism that a Christian newspaper should focus more on good news than we do. I suspect these well-intentioned critiques would just as easily apply to any city daily paper. It is a puzzling opinion. Most editors think their papers should report the most significant news of the day. Do we really have to choose between stories of effective ministry and reports on the African famine? Our readers do rightly expect to hear of ministry needs as well as ministry accomplishments. In reality, I think readers who do not like the news are actually anxious because bad things happen.

Looking at the last two issues of the TEXAN, I was struck by how much good news was there. Admittedly, the stories of relief efforts in Japan were occasioned by a tragic earthquake in that country, but it is still glorious to see the grace of God shining more brightly in the midst of sorrow. In addition to three Japan relief stories, we published the stories of local churches with effective ministries, a Navy chaplain, a good youth camp, and two reports of persecuted Christians in other countries. It was not all good news, but which of those reports would you not want to receive? Still, we publish a lot of good news, mostly because there is good news in the midst of Texas Southern Baptist churches that is not reported elsewhere. And these reports are not “slow news day” items. We laugh when we see stories about cats that speak five languages or a scorched hamburger bun that bears the image of Saint Alfonso, especially in broadcast news. Good news is not like that. It is happy but sober, the result of God’s people doing day-by-day good.

The less uplifting news, denominational challenges, natural disasters, the financial challenges of local ministry and such, are not pointless either. They tempt us to respond in prayer and in action. Perhaps they will warn us of mistakes some are making in ministry. Sometimes they remind us of the constant pull of our culture toward compromise in our biblical convictions. These stories are not in every issue of the paper but they can serve a positive purpose. Consider stories in the lives of Balaam the prophet, King David, Jonah, Peter, and Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5). Each of these lives contains cautionary tales suitable “for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness.” Sometimes bad news can have that purpose.

We on the TEXAN staff enjoy telling the stories that urge us onward more than those that goad us back to the difficult path. We are readers too and enjoy being uplifted more than we enjoy being rebuked. Maybe it is similar to the way that many pastors enjoy preaching the story of Christmas or Easter than they might enjoy preaching the harsh warnings of Matthew 24-25. The truth is a whole, though, and not just selected sweets removed from context. We strive to tell the whole thing.

Maybe the place where people tend to judge the mix of positive and negative in a publication is more focused on the opinion content than on the news. I, like most of you, tend to read the opinion pages of a publication more thoroughly than I read news content. And we judge a publication, online, print, newspaper or magazine, based on the opinion columns—even though those pages are compiled by completely different people than is the news content. If the columnists tend to be more Lamentations than Psalms, then the newspaper is a downer. The same could be said for denominational spokesmen of all sorts. They may have one urgent message that they hope churches and leaders will hear above all others, and it usually involves a response to dire need or an answer to critical issues. Thus, the denomination can be more often seen as negative than positive, regardless of the overwhelming ratio of good news to bad news SBC agencies, conventions and associations could tell.

This evaluation is almost inevitably unfair, by the way. For example, it has been said enough that Southern Baptists are known more for what we are against than for what we favor. That may be more true than important. We are not necessarily known for what is true about us or for what we say of ourselves. Many people like bad news, snarky comments, any confirmation that validates their suspicions that others are despicable. When Baptists fight, literally hundreds of reporters show up at the SBC annual meeting. When we get along and commission missionaries and such, only a handful of reporters, all Baptist, (and a remarkably small number of messengers), make the trip. Some of our critics are ignorant, some are insincere—few will ever learn more or amend their opinions. Southern Baptists owe it to the kingdom of God to be more fair minded than those who do not care to know the whole story. A morbid preference for bad news leads one to believe that true story is far worse than it is.

Your TEXAN staff seeks to tell as fair and thorough a story as we can. I think most editorial types strive to accomplish something similar within the confines of their own constituencies. We will continue to tell more good news than bad because there will always be abundant evidence that God is working among his people. And regrettably, we will always have occasion to tell bad news, not just because it happens, but because it is important. Bad news often demonstrates that our work has been cut out for us and we have just received our marching orders.

As always, we are grateful and humbled to hear from our readers. We read the letters and e-mails we get from you and are happy to know how we can better serve.

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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