Rustlings (April 30, 2018)

There are only 239 more days until Christmas – just thought I’d give you a heads up. It came to mind because I am sitting in an Alliance of Baptists meeting. The Alliance of Baptists (AOB) is one of our three mission affiliates along with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina (CBFSC). All three of these entities benefit from our annual Lula Whilden Offering for World Missions. The CBFSC focuses most of its attention on mission needs within our state. The national CBF is committed to ministry focused on the ‘least served’ persons throughout our nation and world. The AOB – where I am today and on whose board I currently serve – is an advocate for justice and justice education throughout the world. The AOB is the Baptist conscience of a sort.

Why did this remind me of Christmas? Is it because we collect our Lula Whilden offering near Christmas each year? No. Perhaps it is because the AOB shares so many gifts with the world? True…but no. It is because this gathering looks like the Island of Misfit Toys (a reference only understood by fans of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Baptists at their best have always looked like misfits. We didn’t quite fit the persona of the original Protestants – believing our baptismal candidates should be a little older and get a little wetter. We pushed against the practices of the early colonists – not conforming to traditional worship practices but actually preaching in the streets if the Spirit moved us. We fought for the rights of marginal faiths. We even testified in civil courts for the rights of Mormons, Unitarian Universalists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. We knew that a restriction on anyone’s religious freedom was a restriction on everyone’s. I would venture to say we are at our worst as Baptists when we start looking like everyone else. The Southern Baptist Convention embraced a theological and political conservatism that demands uniformity. Other Baptists have become so liturgical you can barely distinguish them from Anglicans or Presbyterians (although real Anglicans and Presbyterians know the difference). The truth is, we are at our best when we are our own messy selves.

So this week at AOB, I gathered with Baptists who are black, white, straight, gay, conservative, liberal and all points in between. We made further commitments to our work on environmental care, racial justice and several other issues that misfits like to tackle. We are Baptists.

— Jim