Why are Baptists so often viewed as narrow, intolerant, politically naive and prone to internal warfare?

“The reason is because for so long so many Baptists have worked so hard to exclude so many,” author John Grisham said Thursday in a message at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta.

Grisham contrasted his current church, University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Va., with the Baptist church of his youth, which was segregation by race and believed the Bible was infallible and all interpretations but their were wrong.

“Sadly, in many places, that church still exists today,” he said.

“How do we as Baptists disarm our critics?” he asked. “How do we restore our good names? How do we get away from being on the defensive?”

Three things.

First, Grisham said, “We must truly respect diversity.”

“We are we kidding when we try to exclude?” he asked. “God made all of use. He loves all of us equally.”

Second, Grisham said, “Stay out of politics.”

“As a church our mission is to serve God through preaching, teaching and serving others,” he said. Our business should be that of the church and not the state.”

“Evangelical politics has become a big business, and the results are disastrous,” he continued. “When the church gets involved in politics, it alienates many people it is supposed to serve.”

Finally, he said, “We should spend as much time out there on the streets as we do in the church.”

“Jesus preached more and taught more about helping the poor and the sick and the hungry than he did about heaven and hell,” Grisham said. “Shouldn’t that tell us something?”

“It is my hope and prayer that this convocation is a new beginning for all Baptists,” Grisham said. “The success of this depends solely on our ability to respect one another despite our differences and to get on with the business of serving others.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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