We in the editing business get called on to perform all sorts of chores that you wouldn’t think come with the job description. We are called on to be impresario (“be sure to give us a lot of publicity about this event because we really need to sell more seats” or “don’t publicize this event because it’s sold out anyhow”). And we are called on to be cheerleaders (“do a story on him — he really deserves it”) and police officers (“don’t mention my kids — someone might kidnap them”).
A couple of weeks ago we were asked to be censors of religious material. That was a new one for us. We checked the job description and couldn’t find a word of guidance. Here’s how we got in this position:
On Friday, April 28, we distributed 12,000 copies of our sister publication, the bi-weekly West Windsor-Plainsboro News, each one containing an insert paid for by a new church in town, the Straightway Baptist Church. Within a few hours we got some phone calls back at the office: Are you endorsing that church? Do you support that church? I’m uncomfortable with a religious group prosletyzing in my home — how could you have allowed that in your newspaper?
We got a grand total of four calls, plus one E-mail, plus — and this may be the greatest indicator of public opinion of all — two people asking about the insert when they ran into one of our writers at the Acme. That’s not much, but if you figure there are 50 people thinking the thought for every one who actually called, wrote, or buttonholed us at the Acme, then it deserves some response. Beyond that, one of the callers was seething with so much anger and hatred that the subject seemed to me to deserve some reasoned thought.
What about this possible new role as a censor?
We already run display ads for a half dozen churches in this community newspaper. They are not all as reverent as one might expect — my favorites are from the Windsor Chapel, one of which asked “Has the true meaning of Easter gotten a little fuzzy?” Underneath is a photo of a stuffed Easter bunny. Another Windsor Chapel ad showed an old-fashioned baby picture and proclaimed: “Our church welcomes you. Regardless of race, creed, color, sexuality, or the number of times you’ve been born.” No one has ever complained about these ads, making my duties as censor easy.
But I could imagine some ads or inserts that would be far more challenging to the censor: A brochure from the right-to-lifers, or anti-abortion crowd featuring grisly photographs of human forms that never asked to be photographed. But if you banned that then you would have to look critically at a flyer from the pro-choice crowd, or should we say pro-abortionists. All that talk of coat hangers and back rooms leaves me squeamish.
This insert from the Straightway Baptist Church looked unassuming. No photos, but a lot of text. Lo and behold, it was the gospel of John from the Bible. So if I had been doing my job as a censor, according to at least some of our readers, I would have taken the Straightway folks aside and given them the bad news about the good news: “Here in West Windsor and Plainsboro, the Bible is a little unsettling. Perhaps you could send out something else.”
But of course it was already too late for that. Instead I decided to check out the Straightway church. First off, contrary to the suggestion of our office wise guy, it is not the West Windsor affiliate of a Baptist congregation in New Hope. Rather it is, as stated at www.straightwaybaptist.com, “a traditional, Bible believing, soul-winning, Christ-centered, independent, fundamental Baptist church.”
I put in a call to the minister, Lou Guarneri, to find out if anyone else had been critical of the insert and to see if others had responded to its call to attend one of the new church’s services, held at the Palmer Inn on Route 1 South.
Guarneri didn’t get back to me by our deadline, but the website revealed that the new pastor was formerly a corporate guy (a BS from Columbia in chemical engineering in 1977) who more recently had become active in his church. And the website noted that 116 people attended its opening day ceremonies.
So Straightway seems to be off to a flying start. I’m not sure how I am doing as a censor. To paraphrase the politically correct veterinarian commenting on the prospects of Barbaro following the Preakness, you can pray for me, or cross your fingers.