Being Baptist

Being Baptist July 13, 2007

We’re still waving goodbye to the caravan of Baptists that came through town a few weeks ago. It was tiring and great and wonderful and a little nerve-racking to have so many folks here and so many opportunities to get involved in really great Baptist events.

I realized early-on (like, last year) that, to navigate the week and emerge with what little sanity I possess still intact I was going to have to be rather selective as far as scheduling was concerned.

So I pored over all the events going on and tried to pick ones that I thought were especially important or notable. One of those was the Baptist Unity Rally for Religious Liberty, hosted by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

It was quite an honor to participate in reading George Truett’s sermon from 1920, as his words about religious liberty are still relevant. But bigger than the words was the experience itself . . .

. . . there we were, standing in the shadow of the Capitol, surrounded by a whole group of people who won’t give up on the dream . . . and I thought for the first time in such a long time: I’m really glad to be a Baptist.

I know, I know. It shocked me, too.

It’s just that it has been about 15 long, hard years of insisting to myself and to other incredulous observers of my journey that I really, really think this Baptist way of following Jesus is worth just one more try.

And, let me tell you, this strange insistence has survived through: many gifted colleagues searching out ministry opportunities in other denominations after getting sick and tired of running in place; the co-opting of Baptist identity by people who insist they are Baptists but aren’t, really; encouragement and several really tempting invitations to find a path to congregational ministry another way; news story after news story of ridiculous Baptist behavior year after year after year; struggling to explain myself at parties . . . you know, all those times when it just didn’t seem worth it.

To gather then, in the shadow of the Capitol, surrounded by a whole group of others who stuck it out, too . . . it seemed, well, like a hard-won victory.

Or at least another vocal expression of Baptist identity, (finally!) getting a hearing.

It confirmed what I’ve believed for so long (often with no evidence whatsoever): that Baptist principles like separation of church and state, priesthood of the believer, autonomy of the local church . . . well, these are important ideas whose expression will not be stifled by cultural or national identity, political power or influence, or even reckless disregard and malpractice by some prominent folks who take the Baptist name.

It’s not over, I know, the wondering whether sticking around is worth the pain. (I know this when I read about churches changing their names to take out the word “Baptist” in an effort to appeal to a general public that equates the word Baptist with, well, you know.)

But the experience that morning glancing up at the Capitol, such a symbol of freedom and hope for so many, and then catching the eyes of so many who believe we can show the world, again, what it really means to be Baptist . . . well that experience gave me hope.

And it inspired me to say and write, for the first time in quite awhile, such a shocking declaration: You know? I think I’m really glad to be a Baptist.

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