Here are seven reasons to be bullish on the New Baptist Covenant:
First is trust — trust is a critical component to a healthy Baptist community, an ingredient that has been missing for a half-century or more.
When the fundamentalists took over the Southern Baptist Convention with deception and falsehood, they destroyed the trust that held together the largest Protestant denomination. When their promises of a golden age of evangelism and church growth proved false, trust eroded among many of their own true believers. As for so-called moderates, trust has been a fragile and mostly missing commodity among individuals and within institutions.
But trust was missing among Baptists before the takeover. Trust went missing between white and black Baptists when Euro-American Baptists either sat out or opposed the civil rights movement, and then fled to the suburbs, abandoning public schools and becoming rabidly opposed to spending tax dollars on anything that might help poor people of color.
But trust was missing before the civil rights movement. Trust went missing early in the 20th century between the SBC and what is now the American Baptist Churches-USA when agreements were breached about ecclesiastical turf.
Trust is a pearl of great price rarely found among North American Baptists.
The NBC has provided an opportunity for the establishment of trust. Goodwill Baptists — individuals and organizations — are listening to one another, breaking bread together and building bridges of trust. Trust is the cornerstone for everything we do moving forward.
Second is the emergence of collaborative initiatives.
For the first time in a long time, Baptists are working together across racial, ethnic, geographic and historic affiliations with exhibit “A” being the NBC’s regional meetings.
Another collaborative effort was the gathering earlier this year in Boston where 40 Baptist and 40 Muslim leaders spent three days examining the shared imperative to love neighbor. Pulling together the diverse Baptist “delegation” was made easier by the relationships of trust emerging from NBC meetings.
Third is worship.
Goodwill Baptists are worshipping together despite the worship wars across Christendom. At the Norman NBC gathering, participants experienced a Native American flutist, an African-American choir, a Hispanic seminary mariachi band and Anglo-led songs with words on big screens. At the Birmingham NBC gathering, the music included high church and a jazz band.
Fourth is reframing of the Baptist name. When goodwill Baptists gather for fellowship, worship and workshops, they disclose unity across a host of barriers, countering the popular stereotype that Baptists are always at war with each other and everyone else.
Fifth is the addition of a new sturdy Baptist voice for social justice in the public square.
For the past 25 years, too often Baptists have been seen as those synonymous with the Christian Right. Baptists were seen as an anti-everything a lot more concerned with their own private gain than the public good. They were defined as those who believed Christians could only belong to the Republican Party.
NBC gatherings in Atlanta, Birmingham, Kansas City and Norman have sent another message: Goodwill Baptists are committed to social justice — challenging racism, addressing global poverty, supporting immigration reform, tackling climate change, advancing religious freedom, to name a few of the issues.
Sixth is a new network of entrepreneurial relationships. Thankfully the NBC has avoided the curse and complacency of bureaucracy.
Two examples of networking relate to EthicsDaily.com. One is our award-winning documentary produced in the spring and summer of 2008. Some of the best interviews in “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism” resulted from new colleagues recommending interviewees — folk we didn’t know. These interviewees gave the documentary more diversity in terms of geography, affiliation and perspective. Second is our list of columnists. We now have EthicsDaily.com columnists we didn’t know before the launch of NBC.
Seventh is positive energy for a shared future together.
Before the Norman meeting ended, a prominent African-American Baptist pastor told an Anglo coordinator, “When we have our next meeting …” That’s a commitment to a shared future.
In advance of the first national gathering in January 2008, I penned a piece proclaiming the event was a success — when it was only a moment yet unrealized in Baptist chronology. The editorial was both premature and polemical.
Having provided program leadership for three of the four regional meetings this year, I’ve had a front row seat from which to assess the NBC. It has the markings of an energetic movement.
The most frequent question is: What do we do next?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.