My line of work often puts me in conversations about the seismic changes in American religious life all around us. As “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous” as this landscape is (so much so, the acronym VUCA has been coined and used to describe it!), what is not uncertain is the degree to which cultural changes have affected just about every aspect of religious communities’ life together — from attendance patterns, to makeup, to funding, to needs and desires of members, to programming, you name it.
A cursory reading of such statistics and reporting can leave one feeling a bit like Chicken Little (“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”): worrying or fearing what is happening within and among all sorts of communities of faith around us, pining for the stable days of yesteryear and assuming the worst about tomorrow. Especially within the associations we share with other Christians and churches of Baptist convictions, we can only speculate about what role denominations might have in this post-denominational age.
I often wonder myself: does a shared claiming of the title of “Baptist” have enough to unite Baptists of all stripes across lines of political and theological difference? Has “Baptist” become a dirty word, more limiting than freeing as we try and define ourselves by who we are, not just who we’re not? In our culture that grows more polarized by the moment, does bearing our uniquely Baptist witness mean anything to the women and men we’re trying to reach with the Good News? And frankly, do people even care?
Sometimes I feel these are questions more proverbial than answerable. And other times, I remain as committed to and hopeful as ever that the Baptist way of interpreting God’s action in the world through Jesus Christ is wholly life-giving and transformative.
That hopefulness for me comes in community with our fellow Baptist brothers and sisters from around the city, the state, the country, and the world. It comes when I hear the distinct shape of a church’s obedience to God through living out their deeply-held beliefs on the freedom of conscience. It comes when I watch a coalition of churches hold local church autonomy in tension with the desire to do more together than they can alone. It comes when I join with other Baptists committed to religious liberty for all people to move my feet and my fingers into action, urging our elected officials to preserve the wall of separation of church and state. And it will come this weekend when fellow Cooperative Baptists from around the state will gather to nurture our shared convictions, be strengthened by our bold call into the world by God in Christ, and bear witness to the Baptist ways of freedom and justice, compassion and reconciliation.
I do hope you’ll join me and a number of others from our church this weekend at the CBFNC Annual Gathering at Knollwood Baptist Church (check cbfnc.org for details!), as we share hope and bind each other up for the work of Love to which we have been called!
Together in the work of Love,