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#SBC21: Press wrestles with Twitter-niche labels as Southern Baptists choose a new leader

If you have followed mainstream coverage of religion (and politics) in recent decades, you know that many journalists tend to make liberal use of the vague term “moderate.”

This has certainly been true of coverage of warfare inside the Southern Baptist Convention.

Since “liberal” is kind of scary, journalists have long divided the SBC into “moderate” and “conservative” camps. With very few exceptions, your typical “moderate” Southern Baptist would be a “fundamentalist” in the world of mainline Protestantism.

Thus, in the great SBC civil war of 1979 and the years thereafter, the term “moderate” came to mean Southern Baptists that mainstream journalists thought were acceptable. These were the folks in the white hats who backed abortion rights, women’s ordination and, at first, were silent or vague on LGBTQ issues. Most of all, they were the enemies of those Southern Baptists who fit under the Religious Right umbrella.

With that in mind, consider the tweaked double-decker headline on The New York Times report after the fireworks at the SBC national meetings in Nashville:

Southern Baptists Narrowly Head Off Ultraconservative Takeover

Ed Litton, a moderate pastor from Alabama, won a high-stakes presidential election with the potential to reshape the future of the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

The original headline stuck with the old-school “moderate” vs. “conservative” language.

The leadership of the Conservative Baptist Network may have been sad about their candidate, the Rev. Mike Stone of Georgia, losing the election. But they had to be elated at how the Times described this event in terms that meshed with their views on SBC life.

Read more at Get Religion

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