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Prominent Southern Baptist blogger Wade Burleson encouraged those present at a Baptist unity gathering to treat fellow Baptists with respect and civility even when there are disagreements over theological or methodological issues. Other speakers at the Midwest Regional Meeting of the New Baptist Covenant in Norman, Okla., echoed his call.

 

The gathering, the fourth regional meeting of the New Baptist Covenant movement, started on the afternoon of Aug. 6 and ended on the evening of Aug. 7. Baptists from multiple states, denominations and races came together for the meeting, which had the theme “Building Bridges.” 

 

Speakers included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, former U.S. Congressman J.C. Watts, Progressive Baptist leader Major Jemison and Palestinian Pastor Hana Massad.

 

Bruce Prescott, the primary organizer of the meeting, expressed his excitement that more than 1,000 people attended the gathering.

 

“Feedback from both participants and those who attended was uniformly positive,” Prescott wrote in an email to EthicsDaily.com. “There is overwhelming interest in having follow-up meetings. The real proof of the value of this conference, however, will be in how well we follow through with our community service projects.”

 

Burleson began his remarks by praising Rick Warren for recent comments made at the recent meeting of the Islamic Society of North America. Burleson said he wished more Baptists would have heard Warren’s call for Christians and Muslims to “respect the dignity of every person,” “restore civility to civilization” and “reinforce the protection of the freedoms of speech and religion.”

 

“For it seems to me that we Baptists can never really value Muslims, treat them with civility and grant them the freedom to speak and believe as they see fit until we first learn to treat our different kinds of Baptist brothers and sisters around the world in the same manner,” Burleson argued. “The greatest barometer for how well we Baptists understand the importance of agape love, which Scriptures call the distinguishing mark of we who follow Jesus Christ, is our treatment of each other.”

 

Burleson also said that he believes “Jesus is more concerned with how we Baptists treat each other than He is with what we Baptists teach each other,” adding that “[o]ur love should reach beyond our theology.”

 

“Jesus warned us that we tend to focus on the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own,” Burleson stated. “I am now committed to follow the commandment of my Lord and to display total and unconditional grace, kindness and love to all my Baptist brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, regardless of our theological differences. You are more important to me — more so than even my principles — and this is both biblical and Christian. In fact, to me, it is the peculiar mark of real, genuine Christianity.”

 

During his remarks, Burleson criticized the efforts by some Baptists that led to “publicly censoring women preachers like Julie Pennington, firing Baptist women professors like Sheri Klouda, walking out on women preachers … or turning our back on women Baptist leaders — acting as if women don’t have a place in the kingdom of God.”

 

“History will one day look back on how we Baptists in the 21st century treated our women who were called by God to minister,” he added. “It is my prayer that conservative, Bible-believing men will not make the same mistake our Southern Baptist forefathers made when they remained quiet two centuries ago as another minority experienced abuse. The ground at the foot of the cross is level so that there is no supremacy of whites, no supremacy of males and no supremacy of the rich — the wall of partition has been removed, and we are called to love every believer in Christ the way Christ loves us.”

 

Other speakers during the Midwest Regional Meeting of the New Baptist Covenant made similar arguments. Former President Carter told those present that Baptists needed to cooperate because the gospel message was more important than disagreements over various social, political or theological issues. Introducing himself as “the husband of the most active and famous deacon in our church,” Carter also pushed for greater support of women in ministry.

 

Sarah Stewart, a recent graduate of Truett Seminary and a minister-in-residence at First Baptist in Oklahoma City, spoke about her call to the ministry.

 

“My calling is a testimony of unity among Baptists,” she stated as she recounted the many Baptists who have mentored and guided her as she discovered God’s calling for her life and ministry.

 

The sessions of the Midwest Regional Meeting of the New Baptist Covenant can be viewed here. The session on Aug. 6 included a screening and dialogue about EthicsDaily.com’s award-winning documentary “Beneath the Skin.”

 

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.

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