After more than 20 years of publishing my opinion I’ve learned to not take the praise nor the pushback too seriously — realizing that only weak writing receives one exclusively or neither.
Long ago I embraced the guiding principle that one of life’s greatest traps is seeking to please everyone.
Following a recent week of wilderness wanderings that soothed my soul and put such things as the opinions of others in proper perspective, I returned to a good mixture of commendations and cancellations as the November-December issue of Nurturing Faith Journal began landing in various mailboxes across the nation.
We lost some subscribers who considered the writing to be wrong or too strong — or group subscribers whose pastoral leaders prefer keeping any controversial issue as far out of reach as possible.
When facing such loss, there is the temptation to be overly cautious and address only subject matter that is widely affirmed — which equates with trying to please everyone. In doing so, however, real issues facing thoughtful individuals and congregations simply get ignored.
Therefore, for us, relevance holds a higher priority than placating the masses — while recognizing that ongoing promotional efforts are required so the front door of circulation at least keeps up with the back door.
Since growing readership is an important part of the publishing business it pinches a bit whenever a subscriber is lost. However, learning to lose a reader who is displeased with something we published is needed when our mission calls for addressing issues that others might avoid.
The hope, of course, is that there are others who value such an honest approach — and find our publishing mission to be helpful and worthy of support. Affirming notes, new subscribers and faithful contributors suggest there are such persons out there.
By mission and design, there is an edge to what we do as well as an acceptance that we are not for everyone. Yet editorial freedom must always be balanced by responsibility over recklessness. We try to strike that balance.
Sometimes I (jokingly) blame subscription losses on my friend and colleague Bruce Gourley who gives historical perspectives to popular subject matters. Often his insightful scholarship discounts revisionist narratives that some readers prefer.
For example, his article on the historical roots of the National Day of Prayer cost us a subscriber — who didn’t challenge the evidence but was offended nonetheless. He called the article mean-spirited. I thought it was insightful and helpful.
Too often truth gets sacrificed on the altar of settling for more comfortable though errant conclusions. That is not something we are willing to do.
Bruce’s series on the American Civil War — heavily laden with firsthand accounts from primary sources — caused one devout Southerner to drop his subscription. He was dismayed by claims (though echoed by his own Southern heroes of the time) that human slavery was the primary issue at stake — preferring narratives that disguise that shameful issue with terminology such as “states’ rights.”
Sometimes historical evidence is not enough to persuade a person with a preferred and passionate perspective. They’d simply rather not read truth that is painful or calls for a changed mind.
Our editorial challenges are not totally unique to journalism. Pastors face similar ones: to risk prophetic preaching or to play it safe — or to lead the church to face new realities or be content to relive the seemingly-safe past.
Not all that we write and publish can be historically substantiated. We do offer opinions as well — though clearly marked as such. And there is no assumption or expectation that all readers will agree with our analyses.
We just hope such thoughts will be discussed rather than dismissed without consideration. Another of our guiding principles is the confession that we could be wrong and are continually seeking new light.
Therefore we approach our task (which we view as a mission) with a commitment to be relevant, constructive and even provocative while seeking to avoid being reckless. This we know: Ignorance is not a value.
Yet we carry on with the full realization — even expectation — that what we offer often clashes with the broad assumptions of many American Christians. In fact, pointing out those differences is a common theme of much of my opinion sharing.
So appealing to the masses is not likely. Rather we hope to be a helpful voice to those trying to make sense out of life’s complexities where easy answers don’t fit the questions.
All that to say: it is important to learn to lose — knowing it’s the only way to gain. That applies to other arenas of life as well.
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