Among the thousands of Baptists at last week’s Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant was a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister–Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches. Kinnamon, who became the NCC’s leader on Jan. 1, heads the ecumenical body that unites 35 Christian denominations representing 45 million people in 100,000 congregations.
Kinnamon explained in a phone interview that he attended the celebration in part to support the six Baptist groups that are part of the NCC, five of whom were participating organizations for the celebration. The five NCC member groups are the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc, National Missionary Baptist Convention of America and Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. Another NCC member body–the Alliance of Baptists–had a booth at the Celebration and had leaders who were panelists on special interest sessions but were not officially a participating body.
In addition to trying “to be supportive of [the six NCC Baptist bodies] and their efforts at reconciliation,” Kinnamon stated that the celebration’s efforts to promote unity are “right up our alley.”
“I would want to be present to celebrate the signs of the Spirit with whatever group–even those who weren’t part of the National Council,” he said. “The mandate of the National Council is to manifest the unity of the church and to participate together in God’s mission.”
Kinnamon stated that he was “very appreciative” of the spirit of the celebration as he did not “sense any denigration of other groups but rather a celebration of these groups together.” He added that it offered “a very positive sense of who Baptists are.”
He mentioned that as a result of the poignant addresses by author John Grisham and others about how it can be hard to even use the term “Baptist” because of how it is sometimes misunderstood, that he wrote to the heads of the six NCC Baptist bodies to assure them that he did not see Baptists that way.
“I see the Baptist tradition as deeply committed to gospel-based freedom, and to discipleship in response to God’s grace,” he explained.
Kinnamon echoed former Southern Baptist Convention president Jimmy Allen in saying he hoped the celebration gathering would become “a movement and not just a moment.” He added that he hoped it would not be “simply a meeting that people go to to feel good about, but rather it also becomes a broader effort to find reconciliation within the Baptist heritage.”
“Related to that is my hope that that will encourage Baptists also to reach out to other ecumenical partners and look for ways of being in common mission and working for reconciliation together,” Kinnamon added. “But first things first. Dealing with one’s own house is very appropriate.”
He said he was astonished how many people at the celebration that he knew, and thought the gathering was likely a great opportunity for networking among the Baptists who were present. He also praised the call for reconciliation among Christians as an important mission.
“All efforts at reconciliation are in some sense the work of God,” he argued. “If reconciliation happens, it’s not our achievement that we celebrate, it’s God’s purposes that we give thanks for.”
Kinnamon’s predecessor at the NCC, Bob Edgar, spoke at a luncheon in 2006 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Baptist Center for Ethics. His address focused on the need for Christians to unite together around the teachings of Jesus.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.