One of those non-Southern Baptist groups

abcBruce Tomaso at the Dallas Morning News religion blog pointed the way to a fantastic Associated Press article by Rachel Zoll.

I’ve written before about my frustration with the way the mainstream media know so little about religion that they lump all Lutherans together, without realizing the very significant theological differences between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the more confessional Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Both are relatively large church bodies and there are a number of smaller Lutheran groups as well — yet many reporters just lump us all together. The ELCA is much more political (and of the more liberal stripe), so it gets more of the press.

I had dinner once with a fellow “pastor’s kid” whose father was a clergyman of the American Baptist Church. She expressed the same frustration but from the opposite perspective. She and her father are quite liberal theologically and politically — but the mainstream media tend to lump all Baptists under the more conservative umbrella.

Zoll wrote a great story about these “other” Baptists, as she calls them. Here’s how it begins:

They’re America’s other Baptists — the ones who appoint women pastors, work with theological liberals and line up more closely with President Carter than with President George W. Bush.

Over the last 25 years, they have watched with growing concern as their conservative Southern Baptist brethren came to define the religious tradition for the general public.

Now, these other Baptists, who are spread among many different denominations, are slowly pooling resources on humanitarian work and evangelism, hoping they can have a bigger impact.

On Friday in Washington, two of the larger groups — the American Baptist Churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship — are worshipping together for the first time. They are commissioning two missionary couples who will represent both groups, and are organizing a national Islamic-Baptist dialogue to improve relations with Muslims.

“It is an effort to celebrate our common heritages as Baptist Christians and to affirm our commitment to work together more collaboratively,” said the Rev. Daniel Vestal, national coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. “The Baptist witness is much richer and more nuanced than is characterized so often in the public square now.”

The introduction to the joint meeting of the ABC and CBF is great. Zoll goes on to describe how the “other” Baptists are organizing and what they hope to accomplish. I think the Carter reference may be unfair, but he has been a prominent non-Southern Baptist in recent years. With an economy of words she describes the independence of many Baptist congregations, something little understood by many reporters. She also points out the diversity of religious and political views among the groups involved:

The religious leaders who endorsed the covenant say their churches span a wide range of beliefs on issues both theological and political, and have diverse styles of worship. Many oppose abortion and gay marriage, but believe that the Bible’s social justice teachings are just as important. The unity meetings also aim to bridge the divide between historically African-American and white Baptists.

It’s just nice to see a story provide some context and information about divisions among those who claim the title Baptist.

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  • http://www.ubirevera.com/ Paul Barnes

    So abortion is not an issue of social justice?

  • http://hometown.aol.com/frgregacca/ Fr. Greg

    I think the Carter reference may be unfair, but he has been a prominent non-Southern Baptist in recent years.

    How is this reference unfair? Wasn’t he a founder of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship?

  • tmatt

    Carter is very much a Baptist in good standing, part of a number of non-SBC networks and projects and a member in good standing at the congregational level. Correct?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I’m talking about the political link with Carter. I have no trouble with the theological comparison, of course. I could be wrong but it strikes me as a smear to link people with Carter politically (which is what the phrase in question does). It’s kind of like tying people to Nixon. Even when there are some political similarities, it’s still a bit unfair. But maybe not. That’s why I wrote “might.” I guess I was thinking that Clinton, who has also been involved with the same effort might be a better political comparison. But then again, maybe not.

  • http://www.thebigdaddyweave.com Aaron Weaver

    Long time reader, first time commenter.

    Carter played no role in founding the CBF. For years Carter was oblivious to the fact that the old-SBC was long gone and relationships were broken. His support of the CBF came only after the BFM 2000. CBF was formed in 1991.

    Politically, the CBF is quite diverse. Two of the three CBF congregations that I have belonged to have been overwhelmingly Republican – Parkway Baptist in Atlanta and The Oaks Baptist in South Georgia.

  • Marinda R

    The differences between SBC, CB, and ABC churches are interesting; what the press (and members of more hierarchical denominations) also usually miss is that Baptists are not a “top down” denomination; there are more liberal SBC and CB churches (like my church with history of a *gasp* women serving as associate pastors) and more conservative ABC congregations. We are rather fiercely congregational and may or may not pay any mind to pronouncements by national “leadership.”

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  • http://www.fishersumc.org Pastor M

    Of course it is easy to knock the press for not knowing all the nuances of denominations and churches. Sometimes, however, it really is hard to know all of these things, even for those of who serve in churches. Just read a book like George Marsden’s Fundamentalism in American Culture–see if you can easily define “fundamentalism,” after doing so.

    How about looking at those of us who are part of churches/denominations/movements. Why are there so many of us? Why can’t we demonstrate and live out “Christian unity?” No wonder the press has trouble not knowing “Who’s who, or what’s what,” and that’s not to excuse lack of effort on the part of the press, which I’m sure is part of the problem. Yet we Christians don’t help the situation any with all of our divisions.

  • http://hometown.aol.com/frgregacca/ Fr. Greg

    Aaron, thanks for clarifying Carter’s involvement with CBF.

    Mollie, I don’t think it’s a smear to speak of someone being politically (or theologically) similar to Carter, nothing at all like linking someone to Nixon. Now, if you’re going to liken someone’s effectiveness to that of Carter as President, that’s another matter altogether.


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