|Announcing success before an event is risky, even foolish business. But in the Pauline tradition of being foolish for Christ's sake and forsaking the wisdom of the world, which warns against naming success in advance during problematic times, I want to announce that the New Baptist Covenant next week in Atlanta is a success based on what it has already accomplished.
First, NBC forced the national media to think more carefully about the prevailing myth that the Southern Baptist Convention speaks for Baptists on moral concerns. Some reporters are recognizing that the Southern Baptist house is a divided one and that Baptists are far more than Southern Baptists. Truth is finding new wings.
Second, NBC afforded the opportunity for goodwill Baptists to find new ways to work together to produce educational resources.
The best example is the Baptist Center for Ethics' initiative to produce a free, online, eight-lesson Bible study on Luke 4 with collateral material. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Baptist General Association of Virginia, Baptist General Convention of Missouri, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, North American Baptist Fellowship and others pooled resources to underwrite this initiative. Writers included members of these bodies and members of Canadian Baptist Ministries, National Baptist Convention and National Baptist Convention of Mexico. Many writers actually belong to churches affiliated with the SBC.
Over 1,500 DVDs of "The Nazareth Manifesto," part of this package of resources, were distributed across North America.
Successful new ventures set the stage for future collaborative resources.
Third, NBC opened the door for a blossoming partnership between National Ministries of American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., and BCE.
Aidsand Wright-Riggins, the executive director of National Ministries, became a curriculum writer, contributed a column to our Web site, spent a day being interviewed for "The Nazareth Manifesto," promoted often the Luke 4 resources and encouraged his staff to interface with us, resulting in a new columnist and contacts. He is now on BCE's board of directors.
Content-centered and mutually beneficial efforts build real community, not photo opportunities and flowery pleasantries.
Fourth, NBC placed the North American Baptist Fellowship, the regional arm of the Baptist World Alliance, at the hub of Baptist continental life.
NABF has emerged as a substantive leader, facilitating more communication across Baptist convention lines and fostering new ideas for ways that we can work together. An active NABF will help BWA to become a greater guiding global force for synergistic North American involvement in relief and development work, mission efforts and educational programs. That would be a break from the old 20th century approach where every territorial convention or fellowship did its own thing.
Flourishing cooperation in the future must have a structural component with NABF being the best option.
Fifth, NBC created a forum for meaningful dialogue.
Despite all the glorious rhetoric about racial goodwill, too many Baptist clergy have too little meaningful interaction with Baptist clergy from different racial, ethnic, national, political and theological identities. Sitting together for three days will create a knotty new dynamic for listening and learning.
Real change happens when we find ourselves in new and even uncomfortable situations.
Sixth, NBC forced a renewed, albeit embryonic, conversation among moderate white Baptists of the South about who we are.
Too many pastors and churches see the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or the Baptist General Convention of Texas or the Baptist General Convention of Missouri or the Baptist General Association of Virginia as options for giving and affiliation away from the fundamentalist-controlled SBC without having to leave the SBC. We keep our pride and keep funding a hostile theology and an anti-everything moral agenda. We stay locked in self-destructive behavior.
Dynamic growth results from compelling vision and energetic engagement, not a menu of giving and affiliation options.
Seventh, NBC gave birth to hope.
The gathering holds out the dream of meaningful engagement and cooperation among Baptists across racial, ethnic and geographic boundaries. The meeting cradles the expectation that the media and church members will see a new face of Baptists—more Baptists uniting than Baptists dividing.
But the weightiest hope is that North American Baptists have prioritized Jesus' moral vision and mission, not sending more foreign missionaries, not building more buildings, not collecting more money for bureaucratic infrastructure and not focusing on doctrine.
The meeting's foundational text is Luke 4:18-19, a text where Jesus identified himself with the prophetic tradition, prioritizing economic transformation, social reformation and environmental restoration. More Baptists now know about that text than ever before.
Without a doubt, Jesus' moral agenda is what North American Baptists need for a new day in a new century.
Granted a lot of things may go badly over the course of the next week. A lot of mistakes have already been made. A lot of unnecessary troubles have been created. Nevertheless, the process has produced at least seven notable successes.
That's worth celebrating—early.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.