Like every other Baptist gathered in Atlanta, I was so pleased at the experience from participating in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. I was unsure whether to come at first, not knowing what to expect or what to think about what might come of this meeting, but I was told by one of my elder mentors that I needed to be there. As usual, the wisdom of my friend was right on target and I am grateful to God for the chance to see it with my own eyes and to hear it with my own ears.
The meeting surpassed anything I’d ever experienced as a Baptist. As a former Southern Baptist and now a CBF’er, all I’ve ever known are gatherings that are decidedly white and middle-class and most of which have been contorted and manipulated by denominational power struggles. A few years ago, I asked the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. to recognize my ordination and was stunned to realize how rich racial diversity could be by entering their ranks on occasion and drinking from the trough of our Baptist cousins. Our Baptist vision has long been a single-lens vision of the family of God created by our dysfunctional past.
As to the future, there should be no question that the power unleashed by this historic meeting should be fervently sought by the leaders of every Baptist group that has the courage to seek it.
The most productive suggestions I’ve heard thus far include the need to meet again on a scheduled basis (every two to three years?). That would enable the groups to continue to talk further about a future that work on projects of a collaborative nature, not to merge but to cooperate. Another suggestion I’ve heard includes shared projects that could demonstrate our solidarity with the agenda of Jesus and offer a unified image to counter the decades of ignorance and isolation.
For the immediate future, someone suggested our next meeting should be in New Orleans. That idea has promise in that it would give us ample opportunity to work together on projects designed to help that city rebuild itself. The government aid in the aftermath of that destruction was a tragic band-aid creating a nightmare of biblical proportions in terms of the kind of concerted effort our government should be able to provide. If such a location were chosen, work teams designed to create regional fellowship could be assembled. The work could take place during the day and worship and fellowship could be provided at night.
When these meetings are scheduled, I would like to see some effort given to making regional or local connections for the purpose of creating relationships. Perhaps workshops could have regional themes that would draw persons from the same areas together in order to meet one another and create a sense of friendship and kinship as pastors and congregations. We can live and work within blocks from one another and not know one another.
Concerning leadership, as we move away from this great gathering unified by your own efforts, I would hope the leaders of our various Baptist bodies would agree to unify under the big tent provided by the North American Baptist Fellowship led by Dr. David Goatley. We need the unity this Fellowship can provide as a way of minimizing the fault lines of the past. The goal of a shared partnership unified by the agenda of Jesus should be tangibly felt if we have the institutional courage to do so. There must be an adopted leadership base with the power to call us together.
We Baptists have been given a great gift from those who have brought us together. Now it is up to us to make those efforts lasting.
Keith D. Herron is senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.
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)
Jeanie Miley, It’s Been a Long Time Since I’ve Wanted to Rededicate My Life at a Baptist Meeting (2/19/08)
Tony Peck, New Baptist Covenant: One-Time Event, or Beginning of a Movement? (2/20/08)
Gary Nelson, New Covenant Baptists Must Grasp ‘Other Reality’ of Diversity (2/21/08)