I am writing this short article in the afterglow of the Atlanta event that celebrated the New Baptist Covenant. The overall response from the Canadian contingent, even though our participation was more as observers than egalitarian partners, was that the speakers were inspiring and the workshops stimulating.
From the first exploratory meeting at the Carter Center, it was my feeling that the agenda was shaded from an American perspective. With loyalty toward the North American Baptist Fellowship and encouragement of colleagues in American denominational bodies, Canadian Baptists participated willingly and as best we could, even with the deep concerns that our differences culturally and politically might create some dissonance. Never once did we feel unwanted, and for this we are grateful.
President Carter, Vice President Gore and Mr. Grisham provided a thoughtful question mark to the usual Baptist caricatures so often projected into Canadian culture from our neighbors to the South. Many of the Canadian Baptists who attended or participated as workshop leaders were proud to be able to say that we were attending an event where people of this caliber were energetic and passionate participants. While we may have felt at times more observers than full participants, our participation did allow us to project a new image to others in Canada’s secularized society.
It was, however, an event more captive to generational frames and modern constructs which felt out of sync with our emerging generations which are shaped in the multi-cultural, secular and postmodern world of Canada.
There is a deep and altering change taking place among emerging generations shaped by a global culture and less attuned and entrapped in old paradigms of liberal/conservative or progressive/moderate. These neat categories may have worked in previous generations but are wholly inadequate for people nurtured in shrinking and interwoven world. It made some of our conversation at times appear more dated–trapped in cultural and time bound frameworks.
The foundations of the shifts of the emerging generation are subtle. Issues and categories are not as neat and clean as the categories conservative or liberal would want us to espouse. Conversations are taking place at much different levels. They are global and multi-cultural. I call it the acknowledgement of the “other reality” in the room. The “other reality” is neither better nor worse, it is simply “other”.
Diversity is much more nuanced than the neat little categories of liberal/conservative or progressive/moderate. For example, of the 20 Canadians at the Atlanta meeting, it was clear that while politically and socially most of us would have been left of center in U.S. comparisons, for many of us our theological frames are more evangelical. What does progressive mean to us?
I attended these meetings as a Canadian in whose society it is a considered detriment for a politician to portray their faith publically. I am evangelical in my theology–deeply committed to engaging the culture evangelistically. I lean to the left politically and am committed to the medical social net created by the federal Canadian government which allows for medical needs for all Canadian citizens. I am however, postmodernly aware that my construct is only one of many.
This shift is taking place everywhere, even in the U.S. I hear it constantly, especially among the young emerging generations of church goers who enter conversations with so called liberals, moderates or progressives experiencing the same disconnect that they experience with the right-wing conservatives. Until this new paradigm shift is acknowledged and the “other” reality in the room recognized in such as way as to require us all to move toward each other, we will never have true diversity.
We were told that this event could be either a moment or a movement. I want to affirm that the New Baptist Covenant was a wonderful moment. The movement however is already taking place. God was already at work in emerging synergies within the existing frames of denominations and fellowships long before the historic meeting in Atlanta at the Carter Center took place. What was brokered through the New Baptist Covenant was the possibility of extending the passion and trust even further, and I am extremely grateful for this. It is not a moment to start another organization but to join together in what is already beginning in other places.
I write this with a deep appreciation for all the effort that took place to make the event possible. I am sincerely grateful that it took place and that we as Canadian Baptists were able to participate. But, I want to make a passionate cry for an agenda that is big enough and global enough to recognize the “other” in the midst not simply by putting them on the platform but seeing and understanding them so that a sacred place of community is formed, a sacred place where unity is possible because we are all seen.
Gary Nelson is general secretary of Canadian Baptist Ministries.
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)