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Allow me one last thought from the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, held in Atlanta Jan. 30-Feb. 1. It was, I think, the finest Baptist meeting I’ve ever attended in America. The spirit of hopefulness, the desire to forge new relationships, and the determination to celebrate an inclusive understanding of “Baptist” were all invigorating, reminiscent in some ways of the first two or three gatherings of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

An important reminder of the kind of attitude we need came from what some might consider an unexpected source: former president Bill Clinton. Clinton, after abandoning his notes to speak from the heart, said something like this: “If you’re looking for guidance in how to relate to other people, the most important verse in the Bible to read is 1 Cor. 13:12 – not the final verse: ‘And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love,’ but the one before that.”

Quoting from memory from the King James Version, Clinton cited the previous verse: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

“What could Paul have been talking about?” Clinton asked. “I’m not a minister, I just read and think.”

“Paul compares life on earth today with life after death in God,” he said. “Think about it as a guide for life and politics — for now, I see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.”

Even if one regards the Bible as literally true, he said, none of us can claim to see or understand it perfectly, because we all see only in part.

“The reason we have to love each other is that all of us might be wrong,” he said.

Later, he added, “If there is any chance that this covenant can become an embracing one, it has to be the chance of love: the chance that we might not give up our differences, but find that our common humanity matters more.”

That, I think, was a word well spoken, and much needed.

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