Baptist of the Year: Molly Marshall


Molly Marshall is a Baptist trailblazer in interfaith and intercultural engagement at a time when the cultural and religious tectonic plates are shifting. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)

Molly Marshall is EthicsDaily.com's pick as Baptist of the Year for 2015.

A Southern Baptist by heritage and academic training, Marshall is now affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA, through her membership at Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas. She is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

She is a Baptist trailblazer in interfaith and intercultural engagement at a time when the cultural and religious tectonic plates are shifting. She leads with word, institutional investment and a global presence.

Challenging the "nativist rhetoric" against immigrant refugees, she wrote in October, "It would be a wonderful Christian witness if each church would sponsor a family. It is an achievable and transformative action. Welcoming the stranger is at the very heart of the Gospel."

Marshall wrote in September about Central's partnership with Myanmar Institute of Theology, which was renewed under her watch.

In a predominantly Buddhist country where churches are burned and minorities are persecuted, her task that month was theological training in peacemaking.

The month before, she did something too few Baptists do. She spoke up for earth care and praised Pope Francis' letter on the environment.

She was at the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Durban, South Africa, in July, delivering a presentation titled "A New Reformation: Challenging Gender Discrimination."

Equally important, she was visibly networking with the global Baptist community.

Where was she in March? Back in Myanmar - where she asked questions of seminarians returning to the U.S. "How do you think you have cultivated respect for the lived religion of others?" and "Have you gained any intercultural competency?"

And that's just in 2015. Read her blog, Trinitarian Soundings, for earlier moral reflections as well as her 24 columns that have appeared on EthicsDaily.com.

For example, she wrote in 2013 about improving Jewish-Christian relations.

She provided leadership also in 2013 at an event to facilitate conversation between Baptists and Muslims.

"Too often we demonize a whole tradition because of the actions of a few. A growing suspicion of the Muslim neighbor has become a part of the national discourse, and it will take great intentionality for this to abate. Joint humanitarian work and respectful speech can foster much greater understanding," she wrote.

Noting Central's wholehearted support of the event, Marshall added, "God has granted us the gift of common ground that we may plow together - for the love of God and the love of neighbor."

We need more Baptist institutional leaders who trek globally, speak constructively, work collaboratively for interfaith and intercultural engagement and prepare intentionally seminarians for ministry in a much different world. Marshall has demonstrated such leadership.

For more than a decade, we have made a surprise announcement at the end of the year about our Baptist of the Year.

Don Sewell was EthicsDaily.com's pick for 2014. He is the director of Faith in Action Initiatives at Baylor Scott and White Health in Dallas, Texas, which has been shipping containers of medical supplies and equipment to trouble zones around the world, including Syrian refugees and Ebola patients and families in Liberia.

Linda Leathers was our 2013 pick for the work she and The Next Door are doing to address the needs of incarcerated women and lower the recidivism rate of those released from the Tennessee Prison for Women. She was an interviewee in our documentary on prison ministry, "Through the Door."

Glen Stassen was our 2012 Baptist of the Year for his lifetime of work on peacemaking and his focus on the "thick" ethic of Jesus.

Known as the "conscience of Alabama," Wayne Flynt was named in 2011 for speaking without flinching when Alabama adopted the nation's meanest anti-immigration law, and for working tirelessly on tax reform.

Babs Baugh was named Baptist of the Year for 2010. She was recognized for her philanthropic leadership. Social justice, moral reformation and advancing the common good happen because moral individuals with generous means make them happen.

We named Emmanuel McCall in 2009 for his leadership on race relations, recognizing his lifetime of commitment. In fact, the title for our documentary on Baptists and race - "Beneath the Skin" - was drawn from a quote by McCall.

Other recipients include David Coffey in 2008 for his leadership on interfaith dialogue between Baptists and Muslims, Al Gore in 2007 for his leadership on the environment, and Paul Montacute in 2005 for his being a global Good Samaritan.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

Editor's Note: Marshall spoke with EthicsDaily.com media producer Cliff Vaughn about CBTS' longtime engagement with the Myanmar Institute in a 2012 video interview, highlighting the vibrant Baptist witness that exists in the country. Pictures of Marshall from various global events are available here. Email pictures of Marshall to EthicsDaily.com managing editor Zach Dawes who will consider them for posting.

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