So what happens when a pastor-theological-task-force-member tries to don a pastor-editor hat? Simple answer: It raises boundary issues.
I’ve spent two-plus decades quickly changing in the roles and tasks of the normally complicated pastoral ministry. Now I’m simultaneously wearing two particular hats: editor and theological task force member. Doing so raising questions about how to respect the integrity of each role.
In September of 2001, the Clear Lake Church Session and I prayed as we sought God’s wisdom, regarding the possibility of my serving on the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church. Together we concluded that God was calling me to serve as a minister-member of the TTFPUP. They believed God was calling them and the congregation to commission me to join with 19 others in search of better ways for Presbyterians to hold on to one another while holding on to their differing convictions.
In September of 2005, the Presbyterian Outlook Foundation board of directors and I prayed as we sought God’s wisdom regarding the possibility of my serving at the Outlook. Together we concluded that God was calling me to serve as editor-in-chief. They believed God was calling them to commission me to join with thousands of readers in the Outlook community to help Presbyterians catch a fresh vision for dynamic ministry, strengthen efforts in cultural transformation, deepen spiritual vitality, and find better ways to hold on to one another while holding on to their differing convictions.
“What’s an editor like you doing on a task force like that?” someone asked me. Good question. “How can a publication that excels in reliable news reporting and analysis be led by an editor who is a member of a group that is generating some of the most controversial news to be analyzed?” Can both hats be worn with integrity? Outlook readers have a right to answers.
The world of journalistic ethics builds boundaries between such roles, and rightly so. The relentless protection of such ethical boundaries has enabled the Outlook through the decades to contribute to the church reliable reporting and insightful analysis of the news. And while the editorials have expressed the writers’ own deeply held convictions, those viewpoints have not been beholden to advocacy organizations, to denominational officials, to legislation writers, or even to the Outlook’s own board members. Editorial freedom has protected the Outlook from either the blandness of groupthink or the triviality of predictability. I intend to maintain this tradition of the highest ethical standards of journalism.
So then, what can I do?
I will fulfill my ongoing responsibilities as editor of the Outlook. I will honor commitments made to and for the task force prior to employment at the Outlook and as editor, I will not write editorials on the subject matter covered in the task force’s report until after the GA takes action on it one way or the other. The Outlook’s news reporters will write without my editing help or any other kind of interference. Guest experts will provide analysis and editorial perspectives, and the balance for which the Outlook is known will prevail.
Simply put, The Presbyterian Outlook will do what it always has done like nobody else: provide honest and accurate reporting, instructive analysis, and thoughtful assessments of news in the PC(USA), including the work of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church. For that matter we will bring the same integrity to bear on all other issues to be addressed by the coming General Assembly, and by Presbyterians throughout the church.
That’s a promise you can count on, no matter what hat you are wearing.