Ray Sanders, editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger, is a wounded messenger. In a recent editorial, he expresses amazement that he would receive criticism for publishing a partisan political voters guide. He wrote:
"It amazes me that people want to "shoot the messenger" for exposing how candidates feel about real issues that are important to Christians. Are candidates so busy they don't have time to answer a brief questionnaire from the third-largest news publication in Oklahoma? Is it wrong for the Baptist Messenger to publish a candidate's response, even if it differs from the opinion of a reader? Is it the Baptist Messenger's fault that a Southern Baptist Governor supports the expansion of gambling in our state? Is it the Baptist Messenger's fault that a former Congressman running for Governor is against gambling, but is a Mormon? Apparently so, based on some of the reactions I have received."
Sanders also wrote,
"Here is the bottom line. The Baptist Messenger, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Family Policy Council don't endorse or support political candidates or parties. What should matter to Oklahoma Baptists is where the candidates stand on the issues. I don't care whether you support a donkey or an elephant or whether your blood bleeds blue or red. It concerns me little if you live in little Dixie or a high-rise apartment. What concerns me is whether your party affiliation will get in the way of how your conscience tells you to vote regarding the issues and how the candidates you elect represent our values.
Here's the bottom line. Sanders is engaging in partisan politics while using Cooperative Program dollars contributed by Oklahoma Baptists. He asks, "Is it wrong for the Baptist Messenger to publish a candidate's response, even if it differs from the opinion of a reader?" The answer yes. It is wrong to publish secular political comments in a special edition of a denominational paper. It is wrong for several reasons:
1) The special edition of the Messenger is partisan political advertisement. It is wrong for churches and denominations to engage in partisan political advertising. Sanders can claim that the voter's guide is not a partisan political advertisement, but the questions contained in the guide are favorable to Republicans and unfavorable to Democrats. Small wonder the Democrats, including Governor Brad Henry, declined to answer the questionnaire. No straight thinking politician is going to engage in answering a questionnaire that puts him/her in a bad light.
2) The special edition of the Messenger is paid political advertisement. Who paid for this political advertisement? Oklahoma Baptists paid for the voter's guide. They paid for it whether they wanted to or not. There's no telling how many thousands of Cooperative Program dollars were spent on this guide. There's no telling how many thousands of dollars were spent on paper, printing, and postage to get this voter's guide into the hands Oklahoma Baptists. It is a travesty that Oklahoma Baptists should have to bear the cost of producing and mailing the voter's guide. Sanders (and the Baptist Messenger) should leave the paid political advertisements to the politicians and stick to publishing news for and about Oklahoma Baptist churches. The politicians can take care of their own advertisements and Oklahoma Baptists will have thousands of Cooperative Program dollars to spend on ministries that promote the gospel.
3) The Baptist Messenger is a newspaper for and about Oklahoma Baptist churches. The paper is a publication for and about Oklahoma Baptists. The purpose of the paper is to publish news for and about Oklahoma Baptist churches and to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ. The special edition voter's guide contains no news for or about Oklahoma Baptist churches. It contains nothing that promotes the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was designed to influence the outcome of an election.
Sanders wrote: "What concerns me is whether your party affiliation will get in the way of how your conscience tells you to vote regarding the issues and how the candidates you elect represent our values." My conscience tells me that Ray Sanders and the Baptist Messenger do not, and should not, tell Oklahoma Baptists how to vote in political elections. My conscience tells me it is wrong to publish a special edition of denominational newspaper to push a Republican agenda. My conscience tells me it would be just as wrong to publish a special edition of a denominational newspaper to push a Democratic agenda. My conscience tells me it is wrong to use Cooperative Program dollars to influence the outcome of any political election. My conscience tells me that it is wrong to strap the cost of the special edition "Voter's Guide" of the Baptist Messenger on Oklahoma Baptists. My conscience tells me that Oklahoma Baptists should not be in the business of secular politics.
I would see no problem with Ray Sanders writing editorials expressing his personal views in regular issues of the Baptist Messenger. No problem there because that's what editors should do. But don't spend thousands of Cooperative Program dollars publishing special edition partisan political voter's guides. If Sanders wants to write a thousand messages on his own blogsite, at his own expense, well and good. If he wants to encourage secular politicians to answer questionnaires to his own blog, well and good. If he wants to encourage five hundred of his friends in the blogosphere to get his message out, well and good. But don't do it at the expense of Oklahoma Baptists whose Cooperative Program dollars were intended to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ and news for and about Oklahoma Baptists.