The Presbyterian Outlook has concluded its search for a new editor. Now it is time to affirm the value of an independent church press. It seems a small thing to wish for, in these days of denominational strife, theological conflict, and liturgical chaos. It only seems a small thing. A flourishing independent church press is essential, particularly in a time of strife and indecision.
Why is it so valuable?
The independent church press is not beholden to any particular part of the denomination’s official establishment. Worthy PC(USA) magazines are valuable sources of church news and many good insights. Various editorial columns reflect independent views, but surely their mission is to promote the life and views of the national church. I am old enough to remember the Presbyterian Survey printed a picture of the procession for the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, showing the humble farm wagon used to carry his body to the church. I valued that cover, but many did not. It is my opinion that the Survey had to bend to the realities of reduced circulation for some time after that.
The independent church press offers alternatives to ordinary ways of thinking. In the days of Dr. Ernest Thompson’s tenure as editor of the Outlook, such aspects of southern life as segregation were addressed, and alternatives suggested in his mild mannered style. Some of his theological views, however gently expressed, landed him in a heresy trial. Dr. Aubrey Brown and his brother worked hard for the reunification of Presbyterians who had split apart during the Civil War era. It took some courage to do that in the fifties and sixties. Dr. George Hunt continued the search for Presbyterian unity, and broadened the views of the Outlook. Dr. Robert Bullock, an irenic evangelical, encouraged the church, in a series of editorials, to reclaim its doctrinal center. On his watch, the controversial advertisement from the Friends of Sophia occupied a full page. Dr. Ben Sparks, as interim editor, in my view wished to modernize the magazine, to make it more attractive to readers, and to increase its subscription base.
It is also important to realize that the independent church press is not about money, wealth, power, or advantage. Jack Haberer, who has been tapped by The Presbyterian Outlook to don the ceremonial green eyeshade, sleeve bands and stiff cuff protectors will surely not be ordering the latest BMW on the prospect of great financial rewards.
Newspaper editing and writing carries with it other rewards, and a few punishments along the way. Whoever accepts the job has to have the strongest characteristic of the free press and that is — passion. It can be a thankless task. It is, to be frank, a calling to be a voice in the wilderness, crafting articles and editorials in the solitary surroundings of a study, while sitting in front of a glowing screen or at a desk, pen in hand. It is hard work. It is fun. It is joy. It is an expression of hope that one person might catch a vision of a fuller tomorrow, a better tomorrow, a life more abundant.
No one in the independent church publication business can see what is being done as business as usual. Unlike the frantic schedule of daily papers, there is time for some crafting of thoughts. Yet, deadlines do loom, and people break promises to produce, and now and then even an editor stumbles. If the editors of the Outlook have hair, they will surely pull at it from time to time!
We need the independent press. Yes, we need the thinkers of the right, and the left, and the fragile center. We need people like the Converses (Christian Observer) and the Dendys (Presbyterian Journal) and the Browns (Outlook), and the Williamsons (The Presbyterian Layman). We need them for the good of the church; for our good; for the good of free thought and independent thinking.
Long live the free and independent church press.
Lawton W. Posey is a retired minister living in Charleston, W.Va.