Rustlings (July 11, 2016)

I spent last week in a Vancouver convention hall full of Baptists. We gathered from over 100 different countries and territories of the world. It was my first Baptist World Alliance (BWA) meeting. Not only did we represent different races and ethnicities, we were different kinds of Baptist. There are over 100 different kinds of Baptist in the world. We tend to be familiar with Southern Baptists, American Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, Free Will Baptists and many more within the United States. But there are even more hues and flavors around the globe. The historic Baptist embrace of freedom – the freedom of every believer to relate personally with God’s Spirit, the freedom of every church to shape her own identity and destiny, the freedom to read and interpret the Bible, and our freedom from the state – has understandably allowed a multiplicity of Baptist groups to evolve. No one Baptist can represent or speak for all Baptists.

Within the BWA, I serve on the Interfaith Relations Commission. So, once we’ve invited all these Baptists to the table, it’s our job to make sure the Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and other faith expressions have a seat as well. And let’s not forget, there are sects and divisions among each of these faith expressions that further complicate our ability to comprehend their manner and mission in the world.

At this table (in fact at a lot of tables), I find myself explaining the fact that “I’m not ‘that’ kind of Baptist.” It seems I am constantly judged in light of some of the worst Baptist behavior and thought. Often the most ignorant, bigoted, hateful Baptists are the loudest, and I have to define and defend myself against their voices and vices. I’ve found this to be true for everyone else at the table. It seems we humans have a tendency to judge the whole on the basis of a few. To reject the whole as a meager attempt to protect ourselves from the few. To risk the holy bond we share as humans and children of God in order to avoid the few. It happens to Baptists… and Muslims and African Americans and police officers.

I’m not willing to live this way. I will continue to love you, respect you, give you the full benefit of the doubt and extend the breadth of God’s grace. You will be my brothers and my sisters. I’ll humbly request the same from you. Those who are cruel need to be called out… but everyone doesn’t need to be called cruel because of the few. May God grant us peace… and may we work for peace in our daily kindness.

— Jim