Progressive Baptist Editor RG Puckett Dies at 80 of Pancreatic Cancer

Outspoken Baptist editor and minister R.G. "Gene" Puckett passed away Sunday at the age of 80 near his home in Raleigh, N.C., after enduring a months-long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Puckett has become known in the religious journalism community as a savvy, quick-witted writer who played an integral role as a progressive Baptist critical of the denomination's conservative movement.

After receiving his education from Campbellsville University, Western Kentucky University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Puckett worked for a string of years as a minister in Ohio and Florida, including serving as pastor of First Baptist Church of Dunedin, Fla., in the early 1960s.

Afterwards, the minister went into the Baptist publishing industry, where he served as editor of the Western Recorder and Maryland Baptist, among other publications, before switching to work as the executive director for the nonprofit group Americans United for Separation of Church and State from 1979 to 1982.

In 1982, Puckett took his journalism talents to Raleigh where he worked as the editor of the Biblical Recorder until 1990.

In 1990, Puckett joined other lead Baptist editors in the area in forming the Associated Baptist Press after two head editors at the Baptist Press were fired by the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, a move which to many revealed the growing tension between conservative and progressive Baptists in the South.

Puckett addressed the anniversary of the firing every year in an Op-Ed column until his retirement.

Tony Cartledge, professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School and contributing editor at Baptists Today, described Puckett in a recent blog post as participating in the "'Baptist battles' that characterized the last 40 years (at least) of Baptist life in the South."

Cartledge described Puckett as always having an opinion and willing to share it.

"Folks were rarely in doubt about where he stood on the issues," Cartledge wrote.

Bill J. Leonard, the Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and professor of Church History at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., told The News & Observer that due to his talents in both writing and preaching, Puckett could "develop an argument with clarity."

"Even if you didn't agree with him, you knew what he meant. He wasn't obtuse in his sermons or his editorials. He said it straight up. In that sense, he is one in a particular generation of great Baptist progressives in the South," Leonard, who was also a good friend of Puckett's for the past 30 years, added.

Following his retirement from the Associated Baptist Press in 1998, Puckett still dedicated much of his time writing op-ed pieces and sending letters to the editor of The News & Observer, as the newspaper notes.

Additionally, Puckett taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church in Raleigh up until April 2013 and often met with fellow Baptist leaders at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity for friendly debates.

A memorial service will be held for Puckett at First Baptist Church in Raleigh on Saturday.

Puckett is survived by his wife of over 55 years, Robbie, as well as two daughters and four grandchildren.