As I read the article, it seemed that this was not a call to Progressive Christianity, but a subtle lament for the lost opportunity within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Yes, the author is correct when he states, "Our fear of all things homosexual deprived us of any chance to offer a welcoming voice of love and justice to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. And while we were clinging to denominational identity, the post-denominational world arrived and moved right on past us." I would be remiss to not also remind the author: your fellow denominations made statements that made the church open and affirming. Yet, I guess it's hard to move forward when the Executive Coordinator, Daniel Vestal says things like, "I believe homosexuality is wrong and contrary to Scripture. I believe marriage is holy before God and I'm not going to do anything that will undermine the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."
And, yes, I understand that Baptist life centers around freedom of conscience, but if you're not willing to have the conversation, then how can the CBF expect to move forward? Baptists have called for the conversation. Indeed, E. Frank Tupper created a forum and space for the conversation at the General Assembly, only to have it suggested that it be moved outside of the Assembly, and into a local church (Read about it here). We must have this conversations, and make strides. I guess I wonder, what is the CBF afraid of? Money? Power? Control? I simply question the commitment of those who include the Great Commission in their Identity Statement, but cannot find the way to love their neighbors.
Sexuality and the CBF is not the only issue, it's simply one issue among many. Many young Baptists are simply tired of talking about the split, and defining ourselves as 'not the SBC.' That's old news. Simply put, a new generation calls for new needs, and until those needs are met the CBF will continue to remain irrelevant. I am interested in moving forward, united with Baptists in the goal of living the life of Christ, but conversations must happen and decisions must be made.
The needs of our generation and the inadequacies of theology throughout the 20th Century have created a vacuum. Progressive Christianity tries to speak to those needs, but not lose it's identity in Christ. Let me be clear: if the CBF or any one denominational organization thinks it can be the home of Progressive Christianity, think again. To claim denominational superiority over Progressive Christianity chokes off the richness of thought other denominations provide.
Instead of trying to be a home of Progressive Christianity, the CBF could listen and work with other organizations. How wonderful of statement would it be if Baptists decided to work with other denominations? How wonderful would it be if the collective freedom of thought within Baptists decided to take a leap, and trust those with differing interpretations of church? How wonderful would it be if a denomination known for lagging perpetually behind made a declaration of radical inclusion?
Baptist churches that were once mainstays of their communities have faded away and become irrelevant. They do not speak about the larger problems that younger people of faith think about. As I sat in a North Carolina Ministers Conference a few weeks back, some of the old men commented on the lack of good preaching. I marveled that this was the main problem some of the people were concerned with. Sure, it's hard to find good preaching because churches prefer those that are older, and young Baptists don't get the experience many in older generations experienced in Seminary. Yet, the problem is larger than preaching. It's the fact that churches do speak to the larger cultural and social issues of the day.
If an organization were to issue a statement against the bullying of LGBTQ youth, it means little if they do not practice inclusion. If an organization wants to speak about social justice, but does not engage racial reconciliation it's hard to take them seriously. If a group wants to talk about the future of the church, but does not band together with other denominations, that future becomes dim and bleak.
Progressive Christianity is not found within any particular denomination. The essence of Progressive Christianity is the diversity of denominational thought, while retaining one's denominational heritage. I agree with John Hewitt that, "Now CBF has an opportunity to catch a fresh vision of what God is actually doing in God's world, that we might go and do the same things." However, it will only catch a 'fresh vision' if they choose to do so. Christianity in America will only catch a fresh vision if we choose to engage our relevancy.
Will I be a Baptist in 10 years? I hope so, but I cannot say for sure. There are many that have left my denomination, even after the formation of CBF, because they could not find a place that accepted a call to become relevant. It takes remarkable courage to ask questions that challenge the established leadership. I won't be a Baptist in 10 years if the leadership of my 'fellowship' looks too much like me. I will not be a Baptist in 10 years if the leadership speaks ill of my LGBTQ siblings. I will not be a Baptist in 10 years, if by that point, we are continually think that freedom of conscience does not mean taking a unified stand.
Some Baptists will appreciate this writing, others will not. Frankly, I am too concerned with moving towards the future, engaging those in my community, to wonder if they think I speak the truth or not. All I know, is that there are people who have left the church because the teachings of Christ do not match up with their values. Whether we cloak it in the name of 'moderate' or 'liberal,' one thing is for certain: people see through the statements and theology. All I can hope is that we, as greater Christian body, learn to speak with each other, and help each other.
Baptists: listen to your Christian siblings. They've walked through many of the issues you walk through now. They can lend you aid. Don't allow your victorious spirit blind you to the wisdom of others. Listen to those of us that are young, for we will inherit the church. Those that are older, listen to us. We don't want to control the conversation, we just want to make sure there is a conversation. For all us, united under Christ, let us go forth seeking how to be the face of Christ in 21st Century, not the 20th.
For further reading on Progressive Christianity visit: The Christian Left, The God Article, The Progressive Christian Alliance, and The Beatitudes Society.