|Baptists of North America recently participated of a true Baptist gathering called "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant." Judging by the name the organizers chose, they seem to believe at least two things about Baptists in North America: We Baptists need something new, and we Baptists are a covenant people.
One of the main questions asked to the multitude by several platform speakers and organizers was: "Where do we go from here?" President Carter himself invited all of us to provide ideas and proposals for consideration by the organizing committee. Here are my suggestions:
First and foremost: Focus on the process rather than the product.
Most Christians think the great achievement of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was to relieve the Gentiles about Jewish laws--and it was. Baptists, however, have focused not so much on the product of that council but on the process. Baptists read the text and see how the apostles and the elders did not make that decision themselves, how they convened the whole church, how everyone was given a fair chance to talk. Those allowed to speak were indeed the leaders: Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James. But, voilá, also "the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees" were invited to address the multitude. Later, everyone was invited to make a decision, not only the apostles and elders. This has been the Baptist way, the way of all and everyone.
New Baptist Covenant organizers now face the same challenge. If a path of unity and participation is found, these diverse and distinct Baptists may produce a lot of good things, for themselves and for the world. However, if the process is ruined by focusing on producing immediate results, the much-expected unity will not come to fruition. With a solid process in store, Baptists of North America can produce many good things. If the process is not inclusive, a one-time product as this last meeting in Atlanta will only be history.
A second related suggestion: Take care of your covenant partners. The organizers of this event should realize they are not just themselves any more. At least 15,000 of us said "Present" not only to their convocation, but also to the new covenant proposed. All of us now have a share into the visions and projects of the original conveners. All Baptists from all walks of life: Greek and Jew, male and female, slave and free. No-one should be excluded--unless, that is, they exclude themselves. It was refreshing to see so many Baptist groups represented in the Atlanta celebration. It actually looked like a Baptist World Alliance gathering. There is still much work to do, however, in calling all Baptists--especially minorities--to a true North American gathering.
A third recommendation: Organizers should not limit themselves to planning another event, they need to adhere to and revamp the North American Baptist Fellowship in such a way that it truly fulfills its God-given mission of uniting all Baptists across North America, as well as other Baptist organizations do around the world. Mexican and Canadian Baptists should not be seen by the organizers as "guests," but as partners and participants, as fellow organizers. The New Baptist Covenant should not seek to form a new Baptist organization. New Baptist Covenant needs to be a movement, a ground zero for fellowship and mission projects of those who are already convened in the NABF.
A last word of advice: Do not fear the new. Do not fear diversity and difference. It is true that in the past, we Baptists in North America have convened around social and cultural lines. Ours is not any more the time for the "around," but the time for the "across." We Baptists in North America need to gather across the cultural and social barriers that have separated us in the past. Jesus' love has gathered us, a love that transcends and unites all cultures and all social strata in himself, creating a new humanity, thus making peace (Eph 2:14-15). The challenge for New Baptist Covenant Baptists is doing the new by trusting the Spirit. Will we Baptists in North America be courageous enough to find a new path, a new way of relating to one another and a new way to convey the message of Jesus to the world? That is the question.
Coming from a Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, the words of "Caminante" resound:
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Wanderer, just your footsteps
are the road, but nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by your walk.
Daniel Carro is Latino ministries Kingdom Advance ambassador for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and professor of divinity at John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va.
EthicsDaily.com is posting a series of opinion pieces about the New Baptist Covenant, evaluating the gathering and making suggestions about next steps:
Robert Parham, Gore Delivers Most Important Baptist Address in 30 Years (2/04/08)
Joseph Phelps, New Baptist Covenant Celebration was Political, but not Partisan (2/05/08)
Mike Smith, The New Baptist Covenant: What's Next? (2/06/08)
Laura A. Cadena, Can Baptists Bridge the Racial Divide? (2/07/08)
James Evans, Reflections on a New Baptist Covenant (2/08/08)
Robert Parham, Washington Post Gets It Wrong About New Baptist Covenant (2/08/08)
Robert Parham, Wall Street Journal Column about New Baptist Covenant Has Too Many
Charles Foster Johnson, Baptists Found Their Voice Again at New Baptist Covenant
Albert Reyes, Reflection on the New Baptist Covenant: Where Do We Go From Here? (2/13/08)
Robert Parham, Baptists Must See Crisscrossing of Race, Poverty and the Environment (2/13/08)
David Goatley, The New Baptist Covenant Celebration: A Grand Experiment (2/14/08)
Jim Evans, Al Gore the Prophet (2/15/08)
Laura Seay, To Become a Movement, New Baptist Covenant Must Look to Future (2/18/08)
Jeanie Miley, It's Been a Long Time Since I've Wanted to Rededicate My Life at a Baptist Meeting (2/19/08)
Tony Peck, New Baptist Covenant: One-Time Event, or Beginning of a Movement? (2/20/08)
Gary Nelson, New Covenant Baptists Must Grasp 'Other Reality' of Diversity (2/21/08)
Keith Herron, New Baptist Covenant Celebration a Gift to North American Baptists (2/22/08)
Randy Hyde, They Call Themselves Christians (2/25/08)
Ed Hogan, The New Baptist Covenant Will Be Judged Not By How We Feel But By What We Do (2/26/08)