The New Baptist Covenant meeting was a wonderful gathering of like-minded Baptists. I have been invited to reflect and evaluate the meeting, consider what the future might hold for this kind of meeting and provide suggestions for local and hemispheric actions. Let me start with an evaluation using the name of the meeting:–New.
The NBC meeting was something new and remains a unique gathering of Baptists who differ culturally, theologically, geographically and politically. Contrary to what most critics think, this meeting was not a political meeting. There were political characteristics that affected the impression of the meeting such as its close proximity to Super Tuesday primaries, the selection of overwhelming Democratic presence in platform leadership and the references to political parties in humorous contexts.
Some of the speeches had political overtones, some had football overtones and some had literary overtones. That is because the speakers came from those vocations, thus their point of reference. The preaching was just that, preaching. The preaching was not political. It was good, solid, expository and thought-provoking preaching.
–Baptist. This was a good Baptist meeting with lots of worship, singing, preaching, testimony and inspiration. It was a good time of networking and meeting new friends and touching base with old friends. Noticeably absent from plenary platform leadership were Baptist friends from Latino and Asian backgrounds. Some Latino and Asian brethren were featured in the smaller breakout sessions.
–Covenant. The NBC meeting was an effort to come together, to unite and to agree on the pursuit of Jesus’ agenda to the poor, the blind, the prisoner, the oppressed and to the proclamation of the year of our Lord’s favor. There was an abundant emphasis on these themes and what Baptists might do about them.
–Celebration. The meeting was a celebration of what Baptists in America can be. Even with our disagreement, differences and diversity, we can unite around the agenda of Jesus.
Where do we go from here?
The leadership would be wise to evaluate the effectiveness of this meeting and plan for another gathering every three to four years. The Baptist World Alliance meets in Honolulu in 2010. Care should be given when planning the next meeting to consider meetings like this one that are already on the calendar.
I really like the idea of tapping high profile Baptists from across the Baptist family. John Grisham was so refreshing! Perhaps we can tap high-profile Baptists from other walks of life at the next meeting. I would recommend that we continue with the same thematic structure of the agenda of Jesus as found in Luke 4:18-19.
In the next meeting I would hope to see a delegation from the Mexican Baptist National Convention and corresponding officers of Canadian Baptist conventions in addition to African-American Baptist conventions and predominantly Anglo Baptist conventions affiliated with the North American Baptist Fellowship. I would also recommend an extra effort to invite and include Asian Baptists and networks in the next celebration.
It would be wise to continue collaboration with the North American Baptist Fellowship as we plan for the next meeting. I would like to see the institutional ministries of these Baptist denominational organizations featured in the meetings. Baptist seminaries, colleges and universities affiliated with the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities might be included as well as the Association of Biblical Higher Education and the Association of Theological Schools. Global and national Baptist ministries such as Buckner International that have global and national reach to children at risk, families and orphans should be showcased as well.
The few break-outs that were devoted to dialogue about race relations barely scratched the surface of a topic we talk about often to the exclusion of meaningful dialogue. In other words, we talk about race relations, but we rarely talk to each other about issues. We need to talk about cross-cultural relationships, issues of power and control, and ways we might share the future together as a Baptist family. Locally, pastors can take the lead by reaching out to Latino, Asian, African and Anglo pastors to meet regularly and plan how to impact their communities for the Kingdom.
While a strong precedent was set of including leaders from African-American and Anglo Baptist bodies, Latino and Asian leadership needs to be at the table for planning local, national and hemispheric events and actions as well.
The next New Baptist Covenant Celebration will be a wonderful gathering of Baptists around the agenda of Jesus. We must do it again.
Albert Reyes is president of Buckner Children and Family Services, Inc.