Praying for one another is one thing that Southern Baptist Convention and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship loyalists can do for one another, so argued a Texas Baptist editor prior to the annual meetings of the SBC and CBF.
Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, observed that the two groups are unlikely to “remarry,” even though they share commonalities.
“At the state and national levels, both groups are grayer, smaller and poorer than they were before the splits,” he wrote.
He noted that time heals the old battle wounds, new leaders are emerging and both groups are now more humble.
Nonetheless, these predominately white Baptists of the South aren’t getting back together.
“With that in mind, it’s time for all these Baptists to take the next step on the spiritual pilgrimage we all – ironically – share,” he wrote. “Why don’t we start praying for each other?”
With only a tad of humor, one wonders how they would pray for each other.
Would it be the prayer of fundamentalist missionary Bertha Smith about Duke McCall, when he was president of the so-called liberal Southern Baptist Theological Seminary?
She allegedly prayed: “Change him, Lord, change him. And Lord, if you can’t change him, take him, Lord, take him.”
Or would it be a prayer akin to the rabbi in “Fiddler on the Roof” about the Russian tsar?
“May God bless and keep the tsar … far away from us,” he said.
Or perhaps it would be an authentic prayer for well-being.
Prayer might be a good first step – even through clinched teeth.
Add to a call to prayer a call to action.
SBC and CBF loyalists have a convergence of interests in reforming the immigration system and the prison system. These are areas where we share common ground.
On the micro level, I have critiqued the SBC leadership stance on immigration for feeding negative narratives about the undocumented. SBC officials have used political rhetoric that says the undocumented must pay back taxes and get in the back of the line – as if they don’t pay taxes and as if there is a line.
On the macro level, the SBC leadership deserves credit for its persistent push for immigration reform. Baptist denominational and political leaders in Alabama and Georgia have ignored national denominational officials, but national political leaders and the press haven’t.
If Catholic bishops and Southern Baptist leaders can work together on immigration reform, can CBF and SBC loyalists do so?
If Republican and Democratic senators can agree on a bipartisan immigration reform bill, given their vastly different political motives, can SBC and CBF loyalists agree on the moral imperative to seek the welfare of the undocumented, given their common biblical heritage?
If immigration reform doesn’t happen this summer, it’s unlikely to happen. That’s why we need SBC and CBF leaders at the national, state and local levels pulling in the same direction. We have an urgency of now.
Prison reform is another area where there is a convergence of interests.
When states are spending more than $50 billion annually on the prison complex in which more than 40 percent of those released are back in prison three years later, we have a badly broken system.
We don’t have to agree on every point about reforming the criminal justice system or how to do prison ministry to agree that faith-based groups can make a difference in reducing the recidivism rate through prison ministry initiatives.
We can agree on the need for churches to engage the prison system. After all, Jesus prioritized concern for those in prison at the beginning and end of his ministry (Luke 4:18-19 and Matthew 25).
EthicsDaily.com has offered for years a stout, moral critique of the SBC – the Disney boycott, the role of women, the anti-public school agenda, the baptizing of the Iraq War, the idea that the GOP was God’s only party.
Only yesterday, Brian Kaylor wrote the most insightful news analysis piece available about the departure of the head of SBC’s moral concerns agency and the beginning of the new chief.
EthicsDaily.com has also given a few SBC folk a platform to frame issues when we’ve thought that their perspective helped to advance the common good.
For example, we’ve posted these columns by Russell Moore, the newly elected director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: More Than a Vice, Gambling is Social Justice Issue and Gulf Catastrophe Challenges Uneasy Evangelical Conscience.
Additionally, we’ve posted these columns by Southwestern Seminary professor John Wilsey: American Exceptionalism’s Original Use Was Unexceptional and Spiritual Training and Soul Care for Texas Prisoners.
At the end of the day, the decision really hinges on whether some CBF and SBC loyalists are willing to collaborate for the sake of advancing the common good.
Do we want to set aside theological disputes, old grievances and differing moral priorities to do justice and to engage in mercy ministries for the undocumented and those entangled in the prison complex?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.