UPDATED: 11:20 A.M. (EDT), June 8
EDITOR’S NOTE: Florida Baptist Witness has released this story earlier than planned because Ben Cole has this morning posted to his blog information about this story. Additional comments from David Rogers will be posted if received.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (FBW) – Just days before the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in San Antonio, Ben Cole, a controversial blogger and major critic of the Southern Baptist Convention leadership, June 7 was discovered to have advised David Rogers, a candidate for first vice president of the denomination, on answers to a questionnaire put forth to candidates by the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper.
The Witness learned Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, made 57 changes to Rogers’ answers tracked in the history of changes to the Microsoft Word document. The nature of the changes ranged from single or several word replacements or deletions to the addition and deletion of sentences and paragraphs.
The changes made by Cole are labeled “Benjamin Cole” in the change tracking function of the word processing software and occurred over a period of 34 minutes, 10:35-11:09 p.m. on June 6. Rogers approved the changes and submitted his questionnaire to the Witness the following morning. Other changes made to the document by an unnamed author are also tracked. When the Witness received the document, the change tracking function was active when it was opened.
The questionnaire, posted on the Witness website, was sent to all of the candidates for first and second vice president – to date, the only contested SBC officer races. Topics included baptism, tongues and private prayer language; biblical morality; what’s right and what’s wrong in the Southern Baptist Convention; the discussion of prayer tongues as “spiritual gifts;” the Cooperative Program giving of other candidate’s home churches; and an open question, “What else would you like to say to Southern Baptists.”
Rogers, an International Mission Board missionary in Madrid, Spain for 13 years, is the son of the late Adrian Rogers who served as Southern Baptist Convention president the last time the SBC annual meeting was held in San Antonio in 1988, and for a previous one-year term from 1979-1980. David Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, June 5 announced his intention to nominate Rogers.
In May 31 entry on Cole’s Weblog, “The First Veep,” the SBC political activist had suggested five “viable” candidates, among them Joyce Rogers, wife of the late Adrian Rogers and an “unnamed missionary candidate.”
Last year, after the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June, Cole, in his blog, claimed authorship of the nomination speech for Wiley Drake who was elected second-vice president. In the same blog, Cole was harshly critical of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and in subsequent months has continued to criticize Patterson.
In a recent entry on a different person’s blog commenting about plans for the SBC in San Antonio, Cole claims to have provided hotel rooms for a large number of people.
“I'm not sure how many total rooms we have, but there are nearly 1000 messengers now in our group. Of course, some of them stay two to a room, and some make their own arrangements," Cole said, adding that as rooms became available recently he was able to accommodate two messengers from Wade Burleson's church, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla.; and two pastors from South Texas whose churches are affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Witness, said he believes the newspaper is responsible for reporting about Cole’s involvement in Rogers’ questionnaire, while refraining from reporting the substance of the changes, unless Rogers indicates his willingness to allow the Witness to do so.
“Candidates for SBC office are entitled to seek counsel from whomever they deem appropriate,” Smith said. “Having learned that Ben Cole – a prominent political activist in SBC life – played a role in crafting David Rogers’ answers to our questionnaire is something we believe we have an obligation to report. SBC messengers can decide for themselves what significance they wish to put in this fact.
“Undoubtedly, Mr. Rogers did not intend for us to see the changes that were made to his questionnaire,” Smith continued. “In light of that, we will not report the substance of the changes unless Mr. Rogers releases us to do so.”
Rogers, in a response to the Witness June 8, said he was aware of Cole’s “talent as a wordsmith and knowledge of denominational issues” and consequently asked for his comments or suggestions in crafting a response to the Witness questionnaire.
“The answers sent in by me to the Florida Baptist Witness represent my thought and mine alone. Upon receiving the questionnaire, I first wrote out my answers to each question. Believing that “wisdom is found in a multitude of counselors,” I then showed them to my wife and other family members who are here in Spain visiting, asking for comments and suggestions,” Rogers said. “During this time, I also responded to an internet chat message sent to me by Ben Cole. Although I have never personally met Mr. Cole, I have corresponded with him on several occasions during the past year.
“Knowing his talent as a wordsmith and knowledge of denominational issues, I mentioned to him the questionnaire I was working on, and asked if he had any comments or suggestions. In the midst of a chat conversation on the wording of several questions, I agreed to send him the entire text by e-mail,” Rogers continued. “Mr. Cole then wrote out his suggested changes, using the edit function of the Word document. Upon receiving Ben’s comments and suggestions by way of e-mail, I carefully read through them, and thought about and considered which ones most accurately reflected my own views and which ones did not. Mr. Cole’s comments, thus, do not affect in any way the faithful representation of my own thoughts in the final document turned in.
“Not having used the edit function of Microsoft Word in the past, I was unaware, when I sent in the final draft, that the history of edits and revisions would be visible to others,” Rogers concluded.
Cole, in a statement to the Witness June 8, said he did assist Rogers in his response.
"Over the past eighteen months, David Rogers and I have developed a friendship grounded in our shared commitment to the Southern Baptist Convention and foreign missions,” Cole wrote. “I am enthusiastic about his nomination, and will do everything I can to help him become our next first vice president.
“While you are technically correct that I assisted David Rogers in his response to the questions provided by the Florida Baptist Witness, the answers are his and his only. The document you reference does not show the extensive online discussion via internet chat and messaging technology where David crafted his responses while I cut and pasted them into the original document so that he could track numerous changes from his original draft response to those he finally submitted to the Florida Baptist Witness,” Cole continued.
“It is obvious to any that have followed David Rogers and my thoughts on the matters raised in the questionnaire that we do not agree on every point,” Cole concluded. “Our disagreement, however, does not impede my desire to see him elected. Indeed, I believe he will be elected, and I pray to that end."