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Monday, July 17, 2006

Alliances WITH Baptists

Kirby Godsey's newly-elected successor, President Bill Underwood of Mercery University, has an insightful editorial in the latest edition of The Baptist Studies Bulletin published by Mercer University's Center for Baptist Studies. Check it out...

There are whispers of an exciting new movement emerging in Baptist life. Within the past several weeks, leaders of Baptist organizations representing more than 20 million Baptists have launched an unprecedented initiative to advance the Kingdom through the combined voice and work of Baptists throughout North America. Baptists from the North and from the South. Black and white Baptists. conservative, moderate and progressive Baptists joining together in a covenant–the North American Baptist Covenant–to affirm "their desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times."

Rather than focus on our disagreements over doctrine, there is much on which we all surely can agree. Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to manifest this love by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick. The Bible could not speak more clearly. And here there remains much work to be done. The average annual income per person in the world’s poorest nations is only $211. More than half the world’s people live on less than $2 a day. Over a billion people must survive on half that amount. Imagine what it must be like to have $1 a day for food, housing, clothing, health care, transportation and education. Millions of people are on the brink of starvation in the Horn of Africa. Every month, more than 100,000 people in the world die of malaria, diarrhea, and more than 200,000 die of AIDs. These are moral issues. They are issues of private morality–are each of us as individual Christians doing what we can to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and care for the sick? They are issues of public morality–are we as a nation doing what we can?

There is power in unity. We Baptists can accomplish more together than any one of us can accomplish alone. This is the premise of the Baptist leaders who have signed the North American Baptist Covenant and who are moving forward aggressively in scheduling a national convocation of Baptists from throughout North America for 2007. Imagine the power of more than 20 million Baptist voices in North American joined together in a mighty chorus sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality. Imagine over 20 million Baptist voices urging the leaders of our nation to adopt policies that promote our moral values. Imagine over 20 million Baptists looking for ways to combine efforts to more effectively feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick.

We certainly would disagree if we chose to focus on some theological issues. Some Baptists believe the Bible is inerrant. Others believe it to be the authoritative record of God’s revelation. Some think that the creation accounts in the early chapters of Genesis convey a recitation of historical fact. Others have concluded that these creation accounts use metaphor to convey fundamental theological truths. Someday we will know the answers to these questions and other questions on which we disagree. But for now, we can only see through a glass darkly. Imagine, one day standing before God and trying to explain that we refused to combine our efforts with those of other followers of Christ to more effectively minister to the world because we disagreed over the meaning of the creation accounts in Genesis.

Though we Baptists are famously independent, we have also recognized that as Christians we owe important responsibilities to our communities. Indeed, we have an illustrious history of building up the Kingdom of God through cooperative endeavors with other Baptists in missions, health care, and education. We are at our best when we are working together. That is the vision of the North American Baptist Covenant.

Read more about The North American Baptist Covenant.


Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

This IS good news, but I notice that no representative of the SBC is among the signers. I am neither surprised nor disturbed by this. It is possible that the SBC's increasing "we're all that counts" attitude is acting as a catalyst for others to cooperate more and find more unity in Christ. Ironic, no?

6:06 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

I am very encouraged by this Covenant. A future meeting open to layfolk from all of the listed groups of Baptists would be very exciting.

The Baptists involved with the NABC is almost identical to the supporting bodies of the Baptist Joint Committee.

However, I've noticed that Stan Hastey was not present when the Covenant was signed. Why was the Alliance not included??

6:51 PM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

When was this? Stan just finished attending the Baptist Peace Fellowship's summer conference 10-15 July--when he was supposed to be on vacation. The Alliance has a very small staff. Jeanette Holt was probably meeting frantically with her fellow members of Churches for a Middle East Peace.

There has been a tendency for other Baptist groups to discount the Alliance because of its small size and because groups like the CBF dismiss it as "too liberal" since the Alliance supports same-sex marriage as a civil right (it was denied entry into the Baptist World Alliance because of this) and is very strong in interfaith dialogue. At a time in which American Baptists are downplaying their liberal/progressive past and don't want to touch issues of sexual orientation (since the far-right and misnamed American Baptist Evangelicals is determined to split the denomination over "homosexuality"), the Alliance's firm stand on the Anabaptist/abolitionist/Social Gospel/liberationist strand of Baptist tradition makes others nervous. CBF runs from the "liberal" label the SBC tries to tag them with, National Baptists are running from their civil rights past and becoming more "health and wealth gospel" types, etc. The Alliance of Baptists represents a strand of Baptist heritage that most other Baptists would rather not remember just now.
Also, the Alliance has been up to its ears fighting off government suits for its mission work in Cuba and this has occupied much of its time.

3:24 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Stan's a great guy. When I worked in DC with the BJC - he hooked us interns up with Orioles tickets on several occasions. The North American Baptist Covenant was signed (with Jimmy Carter present) on April 10th of this year. I'm rather sure that the Alliance was not extended an invitation.

I do wish the CBF would take positions on other issues. CBF is willing to champion their racial diversity and inclusiveness of women in the ministry - but unfortunately not willing to take a public stance on much else.

3:57 PM

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Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

BDW said: "I do wish the CBF would take positions on other issues. CBF is willing to champion their racial diversity and inclusiveness of women in the ministry - but unfortunately not willing to take a public stance on much else."

Yeah, and I haven't seen much racial diversity at their meetings, either. What racial diversity? The CBF is as white as the pre-1979 SBC it tries to recreate.

And, after the CBF's 2000 decision that no GLBT person could serve on CBF staff or as a CBF missionary and no congregation which is welcoming and affirming to GLBT persons could receive any CBF money, I'm not so sure I like them "taking stands." That stand caused our congregation to leave the CBF and become exclusively an Alliance congregation.

The CBF isn't a repressive organization like the SBC, but it is NOT progressive, not "liberal" as the SBCers think. It's rather apolitical, although some of its individual members are more progressive. But, in reaction I suppose to the way the post-1979 SBC politicized everything, the CBF seems to live in a "church world" unconnected from the world everyone else has to live in.

4:48 AM

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