Baptists in North America work apart far more frequently than we work together. We seem to prefer independence over interdependence.
The New Baptist Covenant is an attempt to collaborate around sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, with attention to its impact on public and private morality. This is an effort to be more intentional to our obligations as Christians to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, welcome the strangers among us and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity. If the Spirit allows us to pull it off, it will be a blessing to the world.
Let me describe what the New Baptist Covenant is not. It is not a new Baptist denomination. Each denomination and agency retains its own distinctiveness and life. The New Baptist Covenant is not trying to create a new Baptist organization or structure. We have plenty of those!
It is not a moderate counterbalance to the conservatism of the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of the Baptists in North America are not involved with the internal dynamics, difficulties and injuries related to theological, political and personal issues of that family affair. Some of us grieve that fellow Baptists have experienced such stress and concentration of energy that competes for concentrated global Christian witness. Some of us watch in amazement from afar. Some of us just don’t care.
It is not a move of alleged moderate Baptists to oppose alleged conservative Baptists. There are moderate and conservative Baptists involved in various ways in the New Baptist Covenant. Further, Baptists are too complex to be adequately labeled with well-worn adjectives of moderates and/or conservatives. Those titles mean both too much and too little. Our Baptist identities and heritages are too rich to be contained in those labels.
Here is what the New Baptist Covenant is. The New Baptist Covenant is a collaboration of Baptist communities to celebrate our common commitments to the gospel of Jesus Christ. One major impact will be that we seek to cooperate around ministries of compassion and capacity building among the poor. We will share in worship. We will share in fellowship. We will share in networking to create information and communication opportunities to nurture new synergies among Baptists who are actively working to build a better world through the Christian witness.
Luke 4:18-19 is a key biblical imperative for The New Baptist Covenant. We are not trying to advance a new revelatory imperative. We are simply revisiting a core prophetic and pastoral commitment of Christ Jesus. None of us have exhausted the full insight and impact of this message.
Together, however, we will emphasize this biblical mandate to bring good news to the poor in the fullness of the human-divine interaction. We will accentuate historic Baptist commitments to respecting diversity. We are not afraid of the rich and complementary differences with which God has gifted the human family and our Baptist communities.
We will highlight our Baptist conviction that justice is concern with balance. We seek to counter the notion that justice is punitive and vengeful. We believe that we must negotiate the tensions required to be fair, just, and compassionate. We will stress our obligation to welcome the stranger and heal the broken. We reject the notion that Christian compassion and care and hospitality are optional. They are essential.
The New Baptist Covenant is a bold and aggressive endeavor. The stakes are high. Failure would be horrible. Achieving our goal of intentional Baptist collaboration, however, will bring honor to the Reign of God in the world. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we know that God is able to do more than we and imagine or ask.
Some have attacked this creative attempt at catalyzing Baptist collaboration. My hope is that a wide array of Baptists from every aspect of our richly textured tradition will help to advance this effort. Perhaps those who cannot rejoice in this cause, however, will be able to wish us well according to the will of the Spirit of God.
David Goatley is executive secretary-treasurer of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention and president of the North American Baptist Fellowship.
David Emmanuel Goatley is Research Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies and Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.