Oct. 20, 2018
Rev. Jim Richards
Southern Baptists of Texas Convention
P.O. Box 1988
Grapevine, TX 76099
Greetings as you approach the 20-year anniversary of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). We were present at the inaugural meeting of the state convention, and we remember keenly the messengers’ excitement about the new association of churches in support of Southern Baptists causes both in Texas and around the world. We also recall the enthusiasm over your selection as the inaugural executive director and the prospect of creating a news magazine for Texas Baptist churches that were increasingly frustrated with editorial content of The Baptist Standard.
In 2001, Rev. Gary Ledbetter and his wife, Tammi Reed Ledbetter, were hired to serve in SBTC communications roles, and together they have served as chief editorial and content providers for the TEXAN, a tabloid of the SBTC with a circulation of more than 45,000. Since its first publication in 2002, the TEXAN has supplied Texas Baptist churches with information about SBTC’s work, including significant financial and ministry support of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. In fact, SBTC’s support and affirmation of Southwestern Seminary have been reciprocated consistently for the past 20 years.
Nevertheless, recent contributions to the TEXAN by its associate editor give rise to growing concern that the principal newsjournal of Southern Baptists in Texas may have reported with editorial bias and lax journalistic standards to the detriment of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s public witness. In her most recent article, entitled “SWBTS Board of Visitors hears progress report from interim president,” Mrs. Ledbetter conveys to TEXAN readers impressions about the seminary community that leave doubt about the future support of seminary donors and the atmosphere on campus that is reflected in Baptist Press’s own coverage of that week’s events. Moreover, since it was originally published online, her story has undergone numerous and substantial edits without any notation of editorial adjustments.
Even more threatening to the relationship between SBTC, the TEXAN, and Southwestern Seminary is the fact that Mrs. Ledbetter, who is a member of the SWBTS Board of Visitors, attended meetings on campus this week that would not otherwise be available for outside media coverage. She ostensibly utilized her special status as a member of the seminary’s board of visitors to gain access to these private meetings and interview seminary donors for her clandestine reporting without full disclosure of her dual purpose to seminary officials. And then, once her report was published, she proceeded to edit the piece in numerous and substantive paragraphs without proper editorial notation.
Rev. Richards, SBTC and the TEXAN have enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Southwestern Seminary. The Editor-in-Chief is himself a distinguished alumnus of the institution, and Mrs. Ledbetter has long been “under the wing” of the seminary’s former First Lady Emerita, Dorothy Kelley Patterson.
The Pattersons are now gone from Southwestern. And while securing their legacy may be a personal agenda for the TEXAN’s associate editor, it is not a concern of the official publication of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Indeed, the seminary’s own board of trustees acknowledged the challenges the Pattersons’ ongoing administration presented to the school’s “enrollment, financial, leadership and institutional identity,” none of which have been substantially reported by the TEXAN.
If SBTC churches cannot rely on the TEXAN to provide unbiased coverage of Southwestern Seminary, or if the publication’s associate editor is either unwilling or incapable of providing the same, then both SBTC and Southwestern Seminary are better served by her future recusal from all reporting on seminary-related matters. Moreover, journalistic integrity demands that any TEXAN reporter who gains access to private meetings on the seminary campus by pretext must disclose their journalistic purposes both to the seminary administration and TEXAN readers.
Integrity for a Christian publication is concomitant with the virtues of honesty and transparency. I trust you will address this important matter appropriately, thus confirming the confidence TEXAN readers have in both the publication itself and its sponsoring organization’s historic and mutually-beneficial relationship with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Baptist Blogger
P.S. — Your stained glass window in the Southwestern Seminary chapel is one of the clearer likenesses and better depictions of the whole God-awful bunch. The Ledbetter window: not so much.