The New Baptist Covenant meeting was, without doubt, the most inspiring, uplifting, heart-warming and stimulating meeting in my lifetime. It was also the first time I’ve been proud of being a Baptist in at least 30 years.From the beginning, I was stunned and challenged by William Shaw and the other speakers. As my friends and I listened to the brilliant presentation of Al Gore at lunch on Thursday, we commented to each other about how proud we are that he is Baptist and part of us. Gore was warm, engaging and funny, and if he had given an invitation at the end of his presentation, I would have walked the aisle. Instead, we gave him an extended and enthusiastic standing ovation.
To have Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton open their hearts and minds to us with such vulnerability, transparency and humility and to have them give their time to us and be with us as they were was an amazing thing. Isn’t it rather amazing that we Baptists have two living presidents and two Nobel Peace price winners, whose spirituality was formed in the same religious home as ours?
Hearing Marian Wright Edelman speak and learning that she is a Baptist minister’s daughter like I am somehow got me up out of the doldrums of the last 30 years and activated the idealist that I thought had been buried under our denominational and cultural wars. Surely it’s not too late for me to do something to get up under the cross of Jesus Christ to help alleviate the suffering in this world.
Jimmy Carter’s moving challenge to love God and love the person in front of you evoked feelings in me that brought me to a point of a rededication of my life to what I know and believe but had almost forgotten, and that is that we will be known as Christ’s disciples by the love that we have for each other. And isn’t it appalling that we have had such greatness among us and could have missed knowing that?
The whole event made me believe and dare to hope that maybe, just maybe, there is such a radical thing as grace. It is possible for people to be reconciled to each other. We can learn how to forgive and by the grace of God, any one of us and every one of us can be forgiven. We can be transformed by the very things we thought might destroy us. There is, after all, such a thing as another chance, and the truth is that God is at work in all things, attempting to bring about good.
It’s been a long time since I’ve wanted to rededicate my life at a Baptist meeting.
Back at home on Sunday, the members of my Sunday school eagerly pressed me for an account of the meeting, and I gladly told them every single thing. “What’s next?” they asked, and their enthusiasm was music to my ears.
In my opinion, we need to help local churches know how to do what we experienced at this gathering, and we need to facilitate communication and dialogue at the local and national level. We need to learn to dialogue.
I would like to see local churches meet in guided discussion and dialogue sessions with each other and respond to questions such as these? How do we treat each other when we differ on religious and political issues? What kinds of things do we need to do in this family of faith to solve our problems in a more mature and helpful way? How can we reach out to those who are not like us and form friendships? What must we do to live out Jesus’ mission statement in Luke 4?
I would like to see dialogue sessions, guided by sensitive and knowledgeable facilitators, in which persons of different races can both learn to speak with transparency and vulnerability to each other, and hear with compassion and empathy, gaining understanding about each other. We need to learn how to say hard things without creating barriers between us. We need to learn how to hear hard things without becoming defensive. We need to be intentional in communication that will build bridges between us.
There are “forgiveness projects” around the country. We could participate in these and train persons in local churches to lead these locally.
At future gatherings, and I hope there are those, I would like to see us have opportunities to talk to each other in small and diverse groups, for the purpose of getting acquainted, bridging racial and gender gaps and community among us. We need workshops that provide information and stimulate discussion and action, but we also need the experience of getting acquainted with each other.
Learning how to love the person in front of us might be the greatest gift we can give to the world out of this event. By doing that, we will also be loving God, won’t we?
Jeanie Miley is a newspaper columnist and author in Houston.
EthicsDaily.com is posting a series of opinion pieces about the New Baptist Covenant, evaluating the gathering and making suggestions about next steps:
Robert Parham, Gore Delivers Most Important Baptist Address in 30 Years (2/04/08)
Joseph Phelps, New Baptist Covenant Celebration was Political, but not Partisan (2/05/08)
Mike Smith, The New Baptist Covenant: What’s Next? (2/06/08)
Laura A. Cadena, Can Baptists Bridge the Racial Divide? (2/07/08)
James Evans, Reflections on a New Baptist Covenant (2/08/08)
Robert Parham, Washington Post Gets It Wrong About New Baptist Covenant (2/08/08)
Robert Parham, Wall Street Journal Column about New Baptist Covenant Has Too Many Errors (2/11/08)
Charles Foster Johnson, Baptists Found Their Voice Again at New Baptist Covenant Celebration (2/12/08)
Albert Reyes, Reflection on the New Baptist Covenant: Where Do We Go From Here? (2/13/08)
Robert Parham, Baptists Must See Crisscrossing of Race, Poverty and the Environment (2/13/08)
David Goatley, The New Baptist Covenant Celebration: A Grand Experiment (2/14/08)
Jim Evans, Al Gore the Prophet (2/15/08)
Laura Seay, To Become a Movement, New Baptist Covenant Must Look to Future (2/18/08)