Where are the voices of reason in today’s overheated, overreaching rhetorical environment? As midterm elections draw closer and bitterness over mosque construction has spread across the country, the discord within several denominations also grows louder.
In contrast, there was a remarkable gathering at First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C., in August 2007. Historians from various Baptists branches gathered to discuss their history, and the Particular Baptist Press published the proceedings: “Baptist History Celebration 2007.”
A statement in the front of the book offers a needed reminder for these divisive times: “The following volume will prove beneficial and will lead to a greater understanding of who we are as Baptists. Particular Baptist Press is blessed to present this work, but we would like the reader to know we do not endorse some of the content. The publishers feel that the bibliographies contained in this work are one of its great features.”
Look at this statement. Think about what it says. We don’t endorse everything in this book; however, it will increase our understanding of each other. It will teach us who we are. Even if we don’t agree with everything, the volume is important, and we are blessed to publish it. That is who we are at our very best. No, we do not agree on all issues, but we respect the other. What he or she has to say will increase our understanding.
The volume represents the conference: a celebration of the 300th founding of the first Baptist association in America in Philadelphia. Circumstances moved the conference to Charleston, which is the birthplace of the second Baptist association. First Baptist Church is the oldest Baptist congregation in the South. It was a meeting of historians from every branch of Baptist life. Such a meeting demonstrates that it can be done when people of good will put their differences aside to work toward a common good.
I was privileged to attend the conference, and it was, as the book claims, a blessing in every respect. Singing the old hymns was truly uplifting. As one of the speakers said, “Perhaps we should just stop talking and sing.”
The point is that the attitude of the participants and the hospitality of the host congregation did make your heart sing. When we Baptists remember who we are and our struggles for religious freedom, it does make your heart beat a little faster. Think of what a difference we could make in the world if we could maintain this spirit of cooperation and carry it forward. No one at the conference gave up his or her beliefs, but friendships were formed and bridges were built.
With so many different groups calling themselves Baptists, it is obvious that there are plenty of issues on which we disagree. What we often forget in our zeal to promote our distinctions is that there are many basics on which we do agree. When we focus on our agreements, we accomplish great things.
That is why the statement in the front of the collection of papers is so important. No, we do not agree with everything, but we love and respect everyone enough to publish their views.
What if we could approach all of our differences with that attitude? No, I do not agree with you, but I respect you so much that I am willing to listen to you with an open mind. Maybe you have something to teach me. Maybe I have something to teach you. Let’s talk.
Mitch Carnell is a consultant in organizational and interpersonal communication. He is the editor of “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World” and an active lay member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C.
A member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, he is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at MitchCarnell.com.