Editor’s note: Some 84 leaders of Baptist organizations related to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship met April 27-29 at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. The retreat was convened by Babs Baugh, president of the Baugh Foundation, and Daniel Vestal, executive coordinator of the CBF.
One of the presenters was Robert Parham, BCE’s executive director. Below is a text that corresponds to his remarks on the assigned topic of the significant challenges facing CBF and BCE, and what BCE can contribute to strengthening the goodwill Baptist movement.
When the wind changes direction, there are those who build walls and those who build windmills. So says a Chinese proverb.
Wind here is a metaphor for change.
Bob Dylan sang about change blowing in the wind.
The rock band Kansas offered nihilistic words about wind and change: “Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky. It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy. Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.”
Gone with the Wind (1939) captures in four words the swift collapse of a culture.
Wind is a biblical image for change.
The Lord “came swiftly upon the wings of the wind” (Psalm 18:10).
“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8).
“And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind” (Acts 2:2).
When the wind changes direction, there are those who build walls. Baptists have a long heritage as wall-builders:
Declaring that God doesn’t hear the prayer of a Jew was a wall.
Boycotting Disney was a wall.
Making June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood was a wall.
Calling public schools decaying government schools was a wall.
Naming the Prophet Mohammed as “a demon-possessed pedophile” was a wall.
These Baptist wall-builders seal themselves off. They resist change. They retreat from constructive engagement.
But these Baptist wall-builders are not the only Baptist wall-builders.
Maintaining the organizational status quo is a wall of surrender.
Doing the same unworkable things is a wall of non-productivity.
Pretending the nation’s largest Protestant denomination does not adversely affect our culture and our churches is a wall of denial.
The greatest challenge facing goodwill Baptists is to move decisively away from the tradition of wall-building, the temptation of wall-building, the timidity of wall-building.
Any number of people has played with the idea that “the stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones. The stone age ended because we found a better way.”
Goodwill Baptists must find a better way. A better way than wall-building is windmill building.
In a hot, flat and crowded world, windmills are preferable to walls.
But please don’t confuse windmills with pinwheels. Pinwheels react to change. Pinwheels spin without productivity.
Windmills respond to change. Windmills are productive. Windmills harness the winds of change. Windmills turn wind into power.
As a symbol, windmills signal that we are a responsive people, not a reactive people.
Windmills suggest that we are an innovative people, not stale saints more concerned about burying the dead than living into the wind.
As an organizational principle, windmills are autonomous. Each windmill harnesses the wind it needs to generate its own energy for its own productivity.
In the 21st century, windmills will represent connectivity. Windmills will be connected to an energy grid that shares power across the entire nation based on fluctuating conditions and needs. Each windmill will contribute to and benefit from its connectivity to the shared energy grid. Call it a synergistic relationship of mutuality.
The challenge at the macro level for goodwill Baptists is tradition, temptation and timidity of wall-building. We can build walls or we can build windmills. Investing in windmills shows a greater commitment to the future – the future of innovation, the future of productivity – than maintaining the status quo.
The challenge at the micro level for the Baptist Center for Ethics is how we cobble together the capacity to harness the abundance of wind, the abundance of opportunity.
When we first launched what is now our Web site, EthicsDaily.com, I fretted about when we would break the monthly threshold of 50,000 page requests. Now, I wonder what we will do when we break the monthly threshold of 650,000 page requests and keep growing.
We have also had success with documentaries. Our most recent one, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” aired in January and February on more than 130 ABC-TV stations. That has created an abundance of opportunities, including the opportunity to produce a second ABC-TV documentary.
We have built two productive platforms that harness the winds of change.
If our biggest challenge is capacity, our best contribution to goodwill Baptist life is to create opportunities to share our successful platforms in ways that ensure authentic synergistic partnerships of mutuality.
In closing, I want to shift from a Chinese proverb to an African proverb. An African proverb says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.