January’s historic Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a new movement in Baptist life. Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend enjoyed three days of fellowship and reconciliation with Baptist brothers and sisters from all walks of life, absolutely incredible, God-inspired preaching, and chances to learn about ways to help heal those who have been broken by our sinful world.
Participants left Atlanta with much inspiration, but not many specifics as to what comes next. Precisely what is this movement going to be about? How could the New Baptist Covenant be even better in the future? And where do we go from here? Here are a few of my thoughts:
–Involve young adults. Despite some media reports to the contrary, there was a substantial contingent of Baptists under age 40 in attendance in Atlanta. Along with seminary students (including 179 Stephenson Seminary Scholars), many young professionals, clergy and graduate students made the trip to be part of this historic occasion despite the fact that most young adults do not have flexible work schedules that permit us to take days off on the middle of the week. Despite those limitations, Texas Baptists, for example, sent more than 50 young leaders to the NBC.
Most of us were excited to hear some of our heroes speak and preach in the plenary sessions. It would have been even better to have heard from one or two young adult leaders who will be giants of Baptist life in the future. Our generation is already inspired to “act justly [and] love mercy,” and I would love to hear a sermon from a young pastor on that topic or testimony from a young adult who runs a social-justice ministry.
If the New Baptist Covenant is to be a movement for the future, then the young adults who will one day be its leaders need to be an integral part of future planning and envisioning processes, and we need to see some of those young leaders in order to give a face to a movement that looks to the future.
–Involve Hispanic Baptists. As Texans, perhaps we are more aware that racial reconciliation encompasses more than the divide between African-Americans and whites. While I am certain that there was no ill intent or a lack of goodwill in the planning of the celebration in Atlanta, it was hard not to notice how few Latinos were present at the meeting. That no Hispanic Baptist leaders were speakers in the plenary sessions was very unfortunate.
Given the rapidly changing demographics of our society, this is an omission that needs to be corrected. Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the United States, and Hispanic Baptists are at the forefront of ministry to Spanish-speaking families. The need for more emphasis in this area is enormous. (Every graduate of Baptist University of the Americas, for example, is offered, on average, five jobs). If the New Baptist Covenant is to be truly representative of our North American Baptist world, Hispanic Baptist leaders need to be fully integrated as leaders in future planning and ministry.
–Do something concrete. Among young adults of my generation, cynicism runs rampant. We see little need to commit to projects, candidates or ideals whom we believe will accomplish nothing, and we don’t like to waste our time with high-minded ideals unless we know some kind of concrete action will come out of it. The same is true when it comes to the New Baptist Covenant. For although I had a wonderful, uplifting time in Atlanta, if nothing concrete comes out of the celebration, I will chalk it up as just one more of a long list of Baptist meetings. It will have been a nice three days, but little more.
What kinds of concrete actions might we take? It would be wonderful to see missions partnerships between churches of different branches of the Baptist family. At one special interest session, I just happened to sit beside a representative of another Baptist body who had been to Goma, DR Congo, to support Baptist churches there. Since much of my PhD research took place in Goma, you can imagine our surprise at our chance encounter. How wonderful would it be if we could build on new relationships like that to work together to support Baptists in places like the Congo, or the Texas Valley, or the Philippines?
It doesn’t really matter where the partnerships are, or what precisely happens, although support for Hanna Massad’s Gaza Baptist Church seems like a good place to start. The important thing is that we would be moving forward together, in the spirit of unity that was birthed in Atlanta, to make a real and lasting impact on our world.
Laura Seay is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas.
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 is an Assistant Professor of Government at Colby College. She studies African politics, conflict and development, with a focus on central Africa.