No Baptist speaks for another Baptist, I said, at the conclusion of the three-hour dialoguesession between White House officials and a delegation of 60 goodwill Baptists.
Then, speaking for myself, I told Paul Monteiro, associate director of the Office of Public Engagement, that I thought many goodwill Baptists were disappointed with the ongoing negative narrative from other Baptists that questions President Obama’s Christian faith.
I expressed the hope that this negativity neither discourages the president nor distracts him from seeking justice.
I handed Monteiro a copy of the new Common English Bible and asked him to give it to the president to add to the other Bibles he had.
Inside the Bible was a card from the Baptist Center for Ethics and District of Columbia Baptist Convention with a citation from Proverbs 31:9 – “Speak out…to defend the needy and the poor.”
Earlier in the meeting, I had handed Felicia Escobar, senior policy advisor for the Domestic Policy Council, the same version of the Bible.
Having been told that day that giving gifts to White House officials was a complicated process, I decided to avoid referring to the Bible as a gift.
I told Escobar that I had a moral resource on immigration, which we call the Bible. I noted that the new CommonEnglishBible translated the Hebrew word “ger” as immigrant, unlike other versions of the Bible that use words like alien, foreigner, sojourner or stranger.
As an example from the Common English Bible, I cited Deuteronomy 10:18-19: God “enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing. That means you must also love immigrants.”
But my remarks to her were not all “Bible-speak.” I expressed concern about language that distorts an understanding of the plight of the undocumented.
I referenced the harmful language that says the undocumented must get in line, pay taxes and learn English – as if there is a line, as if the undocumented don’t pay taxes, as if they don’t want to learn English.
She acknowledged that language matters.
Providing “moral resources” to White House officials and speaking to immigration were only a thin slice of the overall meeting.
A word about the composition of the delegation is important. For the most part, participants were pastors – pastors from over 17 states who serve large and small congregations in urban and county-seat locations. Twenty of the 60-member delegation were women.
Participants had affiliations with American Baptist Churches-USA, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Baptist General Convention of Missouri, Baptist General Association of Virginia, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, District of Columbia Baptist Convention, Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, National Baptist Convention-USA Inc., Southern Baptist Convention – to name a few.
Over time, we will learn whether this dialogue will bear good fruit, whether a synergistic relationship can be fashioned between the administration and churches to advance to common good.
Goodwill Baptists don’t have to agree with the Obama administration on every point to find common ground to work on human trafficking, predatory lending, immigration and other issues.
Aside from the White House dialogue, the opportunity did foster a network of goodwill Baptists who are concerned about social justice, one that will use social media far more than earlier networks. It’s a network that will transcend some old barriers, especially when we find common ground.
The experience certainly did facilitate a new dynamic partnership between the Baptist Center for Ethics/EthicsDaily.com and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
While I had spoken at the DCBC’s annual meeting in 2010, an energetic engagement has emerged over the past nine months. I’m grateful for the productive partnership with Ricky Creech, DCBC’s executive minister, and his staff.
Given the Baptist record of off-putting statements, internal denominational conflict and tensions between Baptist bodies, March 7 was a good day for goodwill Baptists.