Tom Ogburn, pastor of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, has an article on Ethics Daily defending his decision to rescind permission for Mainstream Baptists and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to hold a discussion with Barry Lynn at his church.
Ogburn provides an impressive list of activities and partnerships in which First Baptist Church is engaged. The fact that many of them involve working with moderate Baptists serves only to accentuate the inexplicability of his actions toward Mainstream Baptists and Americans United.
Ogburn persists in declaring that he was misled about the nature of the meeting. This is now the second time that Ogburn has impugned the integrity of a member of his own church in the press. The church member whose reputation he has maligned is a former chair of CBF Oklahoma who is currently an officer of both Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United.
If Ogburn has a case to make against this church member, he ought to take the matter before his congregation and not the media. Since he took it to the media, readers interested enough to investigate the matter can find in Ogburn's own press release enough evidence to question his assertion that he had been misled.
First, Ogburn clearly knew that the meeting was related to the Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection that was being held at the State Capitol. He wrote, "The church staff had agreed to allow the group to gather for a brief question and answer time tied to a meeting planned earlier in the day at the state capital building."
Second, Ogburn clearly knew that the meeting would involve Americans United for Separation of Church and State and that Barry Lynn would be featured. He wrote, "It was the understanding that the meeting would be very small in size and that promotion of the event would in no way infer a tie between the church and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State or Barry Lynn."
If Ogburn worried that an Interfaith event at the Oklahoma State Capitol would have a "political tone" or that Americans United and Barry Lynn would not reflect "an appropriate separation of church and state," then he should have been forthright and up front in refusing permission for the use of church facilities. There has been no sudden change in the tone or in the positions of American United or of Barry Lynn in the last three months.
Now that the obfuscations have been removed from Ogburn's statements, it is easy to discover that the real issue for Ogburn is the amount of publicity the event received. His press release said, "Recent promotional flyers and news accounts of the meeting make it appear that the church is hosting Barry Lynn as a speaker and is in support of the AUSCS. In light of the manner the promotion has been handled, the church has rescinded permission for the group to meet in the church facility."
I handled promotion for the event. I produced and distributed the newsletters and I talked to news media when they called for more information about the event.
The church member that Ogburn insists on flogging in the media did little to promote the event. Seven days before the event, he passed out a few newsletters from both Mainstream Baptists and Americans United from a booth at the CBF Oklahoma General Assembly. Ironically, that Assembly was held at FBC in Oklahoma City four days before Ogburn rescinded permission to use church facilities. I also attended that meeting and I saw Ogburn at the meeting. He said nothing to me about his concerns at that time.
Indeed, the materials that I produced did not suggest that the church was "hosting" or "sponsoring" the event. Nor did it suggest that the church "endorsed" AUSCS. The types of materials announcing this meeting differed in no way from those that have been used to promote both Americans United meetings and Mainstream Baptist meetings that have been held at FBC of OKC on previous occasions. All the materials clearly stated that these Interfaith events were sponsored by the Interfaith Alliance, Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, and the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United. The materials simply announced the location of the evening meeting with Barry Lynn. In fact, in the Oklahoma AU Newsletter, an announcement for a different meeting did indicate that that church was sponsoring its event by naming the church at the top of the notice while announcing the location at the bottom. FBC did not receive similar billing at the top of the notice for the event at that church.
Unless Ogburn expected us to hold a secret meeting, it is hard for me to comprehend how he expected us to announce this event. Neither Mainstream Baptists nor Americans United hold secret meetings.
Frankly, it is hard for me to believe that newsletters promoting the event are the true object of Ogburn's concern. If they were, then Ogburn has proven himself to be exceedingly devious and vindictive. We were first notified that the doors would be closed 3 days before the event. The newsletters were being delivered to homes 10 days before the event, Ogburn discussed the Mainstream newsletter with at least one church member 8 days before the event, and Ogburn permitted the newsletters to be distributed at the CBFO General Assembly 6 days before the event. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether our newsletters really prompted Ogburn to close the doors of his church.
The only additional publicity that appeared prior to Ogburn's first press release was an article about the Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection that appeared in the Religion Section of The Oklahoman. There the evening meeting with Lynn was listed third in a text box announcing the time and place for all three of the meetings related to the Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection.
I did indeed talk to the reporter who wrote the story, as I did for the story she penned last year when she covered our first Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection. Her questions were about the event at the Capitol. My responses were about the event at the Capitol. We did not discuss the evening meeting with Lynn. Nothing in her article suggests that FBC of OKC sponsored or hosted or endorsed AU or Barry Lynn. She, too, simply announced the meeting.
Tom Ogburn is free to provide his own definition of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. As long as he persists in impugning the integrity of either Americans United or Mainstream Baptists while crafting his definitions, I will persist in pointing out his misrepresentations of the truth.