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Global Baptist Gathering Expands Christian Community

I didn’t celebrate July 4 this year – at least not in a typical manner.

No fireworks. No hot dogs and hamburgers cooked on a grill. The only red, white and blue that I was around that day was on an American Airlines’ plane.

As folks across the U.S. were firing up their grills for a cookout, I was traveling to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Instead of being around only U.S. citizens celebrating the nation’s independence, I spent a week with Baptists from more than 50 nations at the Baptist World Alliance’s 2016 annual gathering.

While I missed the traditional festivities, being around global Baptists for a week was well worth it. Here are two observations from my first experience at a BWA gathering:

1. Our personal echo chambers are revealed.

The acoustical concept of an echo chamber has been used to describe a situation in which like-minded individuals or groups hear and repeat the same concept over and over again to one another.

While this can help solidify community, it also can divide society into ideological enclaves – competing echo chambers that, at best, shut us off from dialogue, and, at worst, cause us to demonize those outside our circle.

“[T]he increasingly disconnected ideological echo chambers … are distrustful of one another, and of official information sources,” explained Nicholas DiFonzo, professor of psychology at Rochester Institute of Technology. “Among like-minded people, it’s hard to come up with arguments that challenge the group consensus, which means group members keep hearing arguments only in one direction.”

The news we consume, for example, is often limited to outlets whose pundits already think like we do.

If I’m conservative in the U.S., I tend to watch and trust “right-leaning” sources like Fox News. If I’m liberal, I tune in to “left-leaning” outlets like MSNBC.

Gathering with Baptists from more than 50 nations helps us become aware of and move beyond the echo chambers in which we live.

It exposes you to perspectives that you might not encounter otherwise and reminds you that forming and fostering Christian unity while retaining and affirming our significant diversity is a worthwhile endeavor.

2. An expanding sense of community is fostered.

Cliff Vaughn and I shared in a session of the BWA’s Christian Ethics Commission about how EthicsDaily.com seeks to connect global Baptists and resource local churches.

Before our presentation, Meredith Stone of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, spoke about biblical authority and highlighted the importance of community in our interpretation and application of the Bible.

“We must not neglect the role of the Spirit and of our communities of faith in our interpretation of Scripture,” she asserted. “Our communities can help us wrestle with interpretations and how we are putting biblical authority into practice.”

Stone cited a portion of the BWA’s centennial statement about the Bible’s authority: “Christian faith is best understood and experienced within the community of God’s people called to be priests to one another, as these Scriptures are read and studied together.”

These statements are often applied primarily to the Christian community one finds in a local church.

My week in Vancouver reminded me of the broader Christian community that can, and should, shape our approach to, interpretation of and application of the Bible in our daily lives.

Since January 2013, when I began my role as managing editor at EthicsDaily.com, I’ve had the privilege to engage with Christians in various parts of the U.S. and in nations around the world.

Reading their perspectives on global events has helped refine my views on a variety of issues and expanded the Christian community that influences me.

Yet, I corresponded with most only through email, so it was a pleasure finally to meet many of them in person.

European Baptist Federation leaders Tony Peck and Helle Liht have been regular contacts and collaborators.

We were able to visit briefly several times during the week and to affirm the positive, synergistic partnership between EBF and EthicsDaily.com.

Other Baptists with whom I’ve corresponded but had not met until Vancouver included Oti Bunaciu (Romania), Sam Chaise (Canada), David Kerrigan (U.K.), Olu Menjay (Liberia), Paul Msiza (South Africa) and Didi Oprenova (Bulgaria).

New connections were formed with Baptists from Australia, Fiji, France and Germany, to name a few locations.

I also met face to face for the first time with many U.S. Baptists, including EthicsDaily.com contributing editor Brian Kaylor (the result of our virtual office setup).

Local church community is vital to Christian faith, but so is the global Christian community – particularly when it comes to challenging and refining the “givens” of our current insights and perspectives.

These reminders were well worth missing the Fourth of July hot dogs, hamburgers and fireworks. And I enjoyed an excellent burger on my last night in town.

Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZachDawes_Jr.