Word of the Week

A Trip to Baptist Land

Last week, I spent two days immersed in a culture which I had not spent time in for years: Baptist Land.

The Baptist Land amusement park (not a literal park, by the way) that I visited this summer was of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship genre. (I mention this fact because the genres of being Baptist are greatly varied: there are the American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Alliance of Baptists, National Baptists, Progressive National Baptists, Free Will Baptists, and the list could go on and on. When we as Baptists don't like each other, we spilt and form new groups). 

I had not attended a CBF meeting since its convention with ABC in Washington DC in 2007, but I made the choice to go this year for a couple of reasons. First, I was asked to be a part of the What a Preacher Looks Like book signing on Thursday evening (great opportunity to meet some other fabulous women preachers leading churches). And, second, I attended for the purpose of seeing friends in Baptist life as well as seeing for myself the state of things in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship world.

Our church is not a offical CBF church, rather we are affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, through the DC Baptist Convention. But being originally from the South, many of my friends in ministry are a part of this convention as an affiliation with CBF is one of most practical ways that a church can express its moderate views in this part of the country.

So, all in all, I got what I came for. I enjoyed meeting new folks and seeing old friends at the book signing.  I enjoyed the opportunity to "run into" old colleagues and classmates and have opportunities to talk about the ways that life has treated us since we last met.

Though probably I'm not in any way qualified to judge Baptist Land as my trip was a quick one, here are a few of my reflections of the time I spent there:

1. I am grateful for my church. We have our issues but there are a lot of wonderful things about who we are! I sat in a conversation on the state of Baptist Women in Ministry on Friday morning and learned that while strides have been made toward women in ministry positions, only 120 Baptist churches in the United States (of the ABC, CBF and Alliance kind) are led by women.  In comparison, there are nearly 120 Baptist churches in one county in Georgia alone!  I heard a lot of bitterness about this statistic in the group, asking the same old questions, "When will the tide turn for us?" I am just grateful to be in a place of service where my gender does not make me such an odd bird. In fact, it's normative!

2. The CBF, like many mainline groups, is scared of the homosexual conversation. I already knew this, but it was reaffirmed to me again. On Thursday night, during Bill Leonard's sermon about Baptist history, he described how Baptists have lacked behind on issues of race over the past several centuries. He noted how Baptists in the South were often the ones standing for slavery and Jim Crow instead of freedom for all and integration. He celebrated the fact that this was not the case anymore. Leonard's follow-up comment to this was, "What is the next horizon of folks that God is calling us to include?" And the obvious answer was one that Leonard did not speak: including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Though one break-out session was held on Friday on this topic, the word on the street was that it contained voices that were still trying to prove Biblically that homosexuality is sinful. When will we learn, my friends, that this IS the community of folks God is longing for us to welcome openly to our churches? But, there's one thing I know for sure, my strong belief about this is only bound to make my more and more unpopular in the Baptist world (but oh well).

3. I am grateful for the cloud of witnesses and mentors who have shaped my becoming and who are continuing to do the same for others. It was a blessing to see the faces of many folks who I have known or known of at different times in my journey. For example, on Thursday evening, I ran into Ircrel Harrison and other former members of the TNCBF staff who gave me a scholarship for seminary years ago. It was great to re-connect with them and say thank you for their investment in my life at that time and future ministry!

Above all, Baptist Land was good, but I'm glad to be home and back at the grind this week in a little Baptist community of my own.