This week state Baptist conventions in North Carolina and Georgia made decisions to shrink the Baptist tent in their states in the name of doctrinal purity. In Georgia they decided to reject funding from a church that has given millions to the convention over their 168 year relationship together. The cause – the church dare call a woman as its pastor. In North Carolina they decided to eliminate the option for churches to give to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a part of its missions giving to through the state convention. The cause – CBF is perceived as outside the theological tent of the hard right leadership. Why would the pastor of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City care about these two decisions? The reason I care about the action in Georgia is because the pastor that was targeted in their action is Julie Pennington-Russell. She is a friend of mine and a great pastor. The historic relationship between the convention and First Baptist Decatur and the quality of Julie’s magnifies the narrowed mindedness and short sightedness of the convention leaders.
The reason I care about the action in North Carolina is that I am a former NC Baptist who is a graduate of a NC Baptist university, who was called to ministry in a NC Baptist church, and who served four Baptist churches in NC; the fourth of which was a church plant supported by the BSCNC. I am 45 and am old enough to remember the days in NC Baptist life where we were defined by our relationship with Christ, rather than someone else’s desire for doctrinal purity. We were a theologically and politically diverse state that was united in our desire to reach our state and our world with the Good News of Jesus, rather than focused on deciding who belonged in or out of the tent. Our broad tent allowed Baptist from across the diversity of the state to serve together for the sake of Christ. I am sorry that the hard right leaders forgot what made us who we were together, and that the “young guns” are too young to remember what it looked like.
I now claim the pulpit once held by Hershel Hobbs, the great architect of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. I have come to cherish the historical role he played in Baptist life and the voice he brought to important decisions. Everything I have read about him and every story I have read about him within these walls tell me how far we have strayed from our historical footings. We witness the hard right continuing to try to make the Baptist tent more exclusive in an era where the vast majority of Baptist churches are plateaued or declining. Perhaps rather than continue to wage a culture war over the doctrinal purity their – and our – efforts would be better spent focusing on bring a witness for Christ in word and deed to our communities and our world. I am thankful to pastor a church who claims this passion.
Grace and Peace, Tom