In the evangelical Christian world, Charlotte’s Warren Cole Smith has made a multimedia splash.
As an investigative reporter for WORLD magazine, his scoops have helped topple high-profile evangelical leaders such as Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church), Bill Gothard (Institute in Basic Principals), and Dinesh D’Souza (Kings College).
And as host of “Listening In,” a radio program carried on about 100 stations, he has interviewed everybody from California Pastor Rick Warren, author of the evangelical mega-best-seller, “The Purpose-Driven Life,” to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican who is banking on support from conservative Christians if he runs for president in 2016.
Smith, 56, stays busy, but it’s “fun-busy,” he told the Observer on Wednesday while driving to Atlanta to interview the director of a new documentary film about a Christian pastor in South Korea who takes in abandoned babies.
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A Memphis native with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia, Smith spent 15 years in the marketing business. But after moving to Charlotte in 1993, Smith said he eventually followed his heart into journalism. And because he was a committed evangelical Christian, his focus became religion.
For 15 years, he co-wrote (with a small staff), edited and published The Charlotte World, a weekly tabloid-sized newspaper that covered the regional faith scene.
“I loved doing it,” Smith said, but shut down the paper in 2008 because it was not “financially self-sufficient.”
Two years later, he was working for the Asheville-based World News Group, where his title is vice president. The group publishes WORLD, the biweekly magazine, and produces “Listening In” and other radio shows.
Smith isn’t the only World News Group staffer based in Charlotte. Also here: Jamie Dean, WORLD magazine’s national editor and a former member of The Charlotte World staff; and Christina Darnell, a producer for World Radio.
Smith, who attends Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Davidson, has some strong opinions about religion. He went after many practices popular at megachurches in his book, “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church.” And last year, he teamed with Marvin Olasky, the editor of WORLD, to update Olasky’s 1988 book, now provocatively titled “Prodigal Press: Confronting the Anti-Christian Bias of the American News Media.”
Smith has also written critically of Charlotte’s Elevation Church, especially the 2013 decision by its pastor, Steven Furtick, to build a 16,000-square foot home in the Weddington area.
“We do have a point of view,” Smith said of himself and the staff at WORLD. “We do care about a biblical Christian understanding of the world and we don’t apologize for that point of view.”
Still, in doing investigative stories, “I work really hard to stick to the facts and let the reporting tell the story,” Smith said. “We’re not looking to investigate people we just happen to disagree with on the fine points of doctrine. There has to be clear evidence of wrongdoing and no properly functioning biblical structure for accountability and transparency.”