Time for Another Baptist Witness

clingenpeel.jpgBy Michael Clingenpeel

One of the characters on the cartoon show “Family Guy” is a talking baby. Not long ago the tot described someone being “as lonely as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell after the Rapture.” The cartoon immediately cut to a vignette where Robertson and Falwell, both apparently left behind, stood talking. The Lynchburg pastor remarked to Robertson: “I don’t know why we were left. We hated all the right things.”

That statement is a tidy explanation of our nation’s perception of Baptists over the past couple of decades. One very vocal subset of Baptists in the United States has celebrated their hatreds—women ministers, Mormons, liberals, homosexuals, Disney, Democrats, modernity in general. Baptists now are known more for what we oppose than the ideals and causes we affirm.

Another Baptist witness needs to be heard and, if two former U.S. presidents and a host of others can coax us other Baptists out of our shells, we will get the opportunity to do it about a year from now.

Last month about 80 Baptist leaders, including Baptist General Association of Virginia executive-director John Upton, met at Atlanta’s Carter Center and announced a convocation that will give a face to a North American Baptist Covenant signed last year. The convocation, scheduled, January 30-February 1, 2008, in Atlanta, Ga., will attempt to unite diverse Baptists in a network to reverse a decades-old negative image of Baptists and address social issues.

Almost 30 Baptist entities are likely to be involved in the interracial, pan-Baptist effort, including the Baptist World Alliance, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptist Churches, National Baptist Convention USA, and Canadian Baptist Ministries

Because Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton—both Democrats—are involved, some have criticized the convocation as nothing more than politics. But the organizers disagree. They say they also want to involve conservatives, high-visibility Republicans, and Independents and a wide array of Baptists to ensure the event will be about our common Baptist witness, not national politics.

Moderate Virginia Baptists need to support this pan-Baptist network. We need to clear our throats and find our voice for the sake of an authentic Baptist witness in North America. The date is January 30 through February 1, 2008. Be there.

Michael Clingenpeel, pastor of River Road Church Baptist in Richmond, is co-chairman of Virginia Baptists Committed. He is former editor of The Religious Herald.

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