I became a Christian in college. Perhaps in a future blog I will talk about how that happened, but right now that is not important. What is important is that soon after I became a Christian, I was discipled by members of a Southern Baptist campus ministry known as the Baptist Student Union (BSU). They were the ones who taught me what it was to be a Christian and how I could grow stronger in my faith.
It is not surprising then that I soon became a Southern Baptist by joining a local Southern Baptist Church. After graduation I served a year as an assistant campus minster for a BSU at two other universities. I considered becoming an overseas missionary with the Southern Baptists, but that did not work out. Nevertheless whenever I moved somewhere, I looked at only Southern Baptist churches to make my decision on which church I would join. The Southern Baptists had my complete loyalty.
However, while I was in graduate school that changed. I was active at a Southern Baptist church in Austin when that church started having problems. Being on staff as a volunteer campus minister, I had a front row seat to the church splitting apart. I saw the writing on the wall and left the church before the official split took place. It left me disillusioned about the church. It also left me disillusioned about the Southern Baptists.
After leaving the church, I visited many other churches. For the first time I included non-Southern Baptist churches on my list of possible churches. Eventually I did join a non-denominational church. From that point on, whenever I moved, I was open to any Christian church. In fact I started to ignore the Southern Baptist churches. Over the years looking at them as an outsider, I was not impressed with what I saw. They seemed stuck in the early 20th century and did not tend to have the racial diversity I so deeply desired. I mostly found myself in non-denominational churches, and I was generally pleased with them.
Last year after the birth of my second son, my wife and I started to reconsider membership in our current church. We loved that church, but we had recently moved and now were driving 45 minutes to service. We wanted a church closer to home so that our boys could become active with that church without us having to be on the road for at least an hour and a half. So we decided to visit the churches in our college town. Eventually we found a really cool church close to us. They preached a sound biblical message, were committed to racial diversity and lived out the values of Christian community that I have recently begun to advocate. So we have gone through the process of membership and expect to be members by the end of the month.
Oh and by the way, this is a Southern Baptist church. I did not seek it out. And indeed it did not seem like a Southern Baptist church. In fact, I did not realize that it was a Southern Baptist church until I started the membership process. So, after years of being outside the Southern Baptist fold, I am heading back in.
Of course I am coming in at an interesting time. There is the obvious controversy with Paige Patterson that is making the news. The national convention occurring in a few months may bring a consequential change of leadership. And while I have not been a Southern Baptist for some time, I have interacted with some of the leaders in the denomination. So I have some insight into some of the challenges that await this denomination. So I am going back to the Southern Baptists with my eyes wide open.
But I truly believe that God has a reason for bringing me back to this denomination. When I was in it before, I was an inexperienced graduate student. I had ideas, some good and some not so good, but no one wanted to listen to me. Now I am a professor with expertise in race relations and anti-Christian bigotry. I also have a vision of Christian community that I want to position myself to talk about more over time. This denomination needs to make a transition from some of the old guard, who did great things in their day, to the young guns who can guide the denomination into a post-Christian future. I want to be a voice to help make that transition a reality.
As a Christian I do not think any of this is an accident. My spiritual journey started as a Southern Baptist, and I may well end my journey as one. I am still extremely grateful for how the leaders at the BSU invested in me and help me to grow. I look forward to being grateful for the Southern Baptist individuals I will work with today and hopefully to invest in the lives of younger members of this denomination.
As you can tell this has been a little more personal than my normal blog. But I do think it will impact some of my future writings. Even in a time of non-denominationalism, being part of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States is notable. At times I may talk about my work towards helping this denomination in this changing society. The influence of the Southern Baptist Convention will continue to impact American Christianity. And now that God has placed me in that denomination, I plan on taking full advantage of this opportunity.