I served on the communications staff of American Baptist Churches in the USA for two decades. Most of that time I was editor of The American Baptist Magazine, a position I assumed as a callow youth. I was a naïve 28 when Editor Norman R. De Puy passed the mantle along to me, and a jaded 45 when I resigned in 1991 to return to newspaper writing.
When I joined the American Baptist staff in 1971, the denomination looked back on a proud history of prophetic advocacy in civil rights, peace, eco-justice, and gender equality. I was extremely proud to work for Martin Luther King’s home denomination. But as Dr. Frank Sharp, director of American Baptist News Service pointed out, the zest for justice was greatest among the staff of the national offices in Valley Forge, Pa., and dwindled precipitously the further one strayed into the Baptist hinterland.
As editor, I knew I was communicating to a highly diverse audience. I tried to write balanced editorials about theological and political issues of interest to American Baptists and generally elicited a balance of approving and disapproving editorial mail. Perhaps the most vicious spate of mail I received followed an article on the National Council of Churches new inclusive language lectionary. Baptists, who generally don’t use a lectionary, thought we were referring to a radical bible that would force them to read “Our Mother who art in heaven …” My mail ran from polite dismissiveness to threats of violence and I thank God there was no Twitter back then.
Given that insight into our readership, I probably should have avoided introducing editorial cartoons into the magazine. And I’m sure that if I hadn’t been editor, the cartoons would never have appeared, because any other editor would have seen I was no Walt Kelly or Herblock. But I told myself cartoons could appeal to a wider demographic of readers and I forged ahead. In the end, nothing we could do seemed to make a difference and The American Baptist magazine went the way of all print media in 1991.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the budget watchers decided it would be too expensive to continue to use glossy paper to publish The American Baptist so we switched to crude newsprint. The magazine was never the same after that. This weekend I began pulling some old scrapbooks off my shelves and realized the worst: the magazine is continuing to crumble. I spent several hours scanning the contributions that mean most to me – namely, the cartoons.
Now that they are digitally available, I’m going to attempt to blog them into iCloud eternity.
I submit them for your approval, hoping for your indulgence. And praying that for American Baptists of a certain age, these pen-and-ink scrawling’s may bring back memories of a halcyon age of denominational life.