Cuba Bound

Today I'm heading back to Cuba. Eighteen months ago I visited Baptists in the western and central parts of the island nation. Now I will visit Baptists in the eastern part, primarily in Santiago de Cuba. I will be joining five others representing three organizations: Churchnet, Baptist Home, and Future Leadership Foundation. Together we hope to find ways to partner with Cuban Baptists.

A lot has changed since the last time I visited Cuba. Two months after that trip came the announcement of the opening in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. That process continues, with more steps yet to come. I'll have limited Internet access during the week, but in the meantime you can read about my last trip to Cuba (here, here, and here).

Leading Church Bible Studies

This month I've had a couple opportunities to teach at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri. For three Sundays I led a Sunday School class in discussing Love Wins by Rob Bell and related issues about heaven, hell, God, and how we are to live. The book does a great job of providing questions and issues to consider, and I enjoyed being in a class willing to engage in some difficult conversations about issues that aren't always considered.

Last night I led Wednesday night Bible study. The text for the week was John 10:22-30, which focuses on hearing God's voice. We had a good dialogue and I enjoyed being able to share some thoughts about listening and communication based on that text and a couple of other passages.

It's important for us to come together and talk about important issues. I appreciate the opportunities to lead some of these discussions.

Late Night at the Capitol

On Tuesday night I spent eight hours in a cramped room in the basement of the Missouri Capitol. I showed up for the House's only public hearing on SJR 39, a controversial religious objection bill that would create a constitutional amendment allowing marriage-related businesses to refuse to serve same-sex couples. Scheduled to start at 5 p.m., the hearing didn't start until about 8:05 due to a long debate on the House floor. Then the hearing lasted for five hours!

The wait wasn't as bad as it could've been as I had some good conversations with others and thanks to free pizza provided by House Democrats. The pizza was rightly free for everyone there regardless of their political persuasion on the bill. So at least the night started off with an agreement against discrimination!

Once the hearing finally started, poor leadership of the Emerging Issues Committee allowed the bill's sponsor, Senator Bob Onder, to use one-quarter of the allotted time for the public hearing. He'd already received lots of time in the Senate (and media). Additionally, with the room filled beyond capacity with lots of people standing (and others in another room watching a live webcast), it should've been obvious there were lots of members of the public wanting to testify.

When the public finally got to talk, a disappointing divide quickly emerged. Proponents were primarily conservative Christian leaders and their lawyers. Opponents were primarily business leaders and LGBT activists. This divide made it seem religious liberty was on one side and business interests and civil rights on the other. I found myself frustrated by both proponents (for making religious voices seem discriminatory) and opponents (for making religious voices seem unneeded). Although the hearing was set for four hours, legislators remained longer to allow more people to speak (and anyone could turn in written testimony).

Shortly after 12:30 in the morning, I finally got to share my thoughts. I turned in my two-page testimony and offered a slightly shorter three-minute version. I focused my remarks on how I opposed the bill as a Baptist minister because it's not really religious liberty legislation. (I made arguments similar to what I've outlined in posts here and here.) A couple legislators posed questions, and I enjoyed the interaction with them. In addition to turning in a written copy, I also dropped off a copy the next morning for each representative in their office.

Baptist News Global ran a nice article yesterday highlighting key aspects of my testimony. The headline captures my point well: Baptist says ‘Religious Liberty’ Bill Threatens ... Well, Religious Liberty. I hope my testimony will help legislators better understand religious liberty and ultimately vote against this bad bill.

The Missouri Plan

I wrote the cover package for the April issue of Word&Way (a Baptist magazine in the Midwest). The focus is on the "Missouri Plan," a unique period of Baptist cooperation at the end of the 1800s and start of the 1900s. The articles explore what happened and why, as well as how this might inspire people today to cooperate.

The first article, Missouri Once Offered Unique Model for Baptist Cooperation, looks at the past by considering what the Missouri Plan was, its origin, and its impact. The piece includes comments from Adrian Lamkin (an American Baptist leader in Illinois who previously served as director of the William E. Partee Center for Baptist Historical Studies at William Jewell College in Missouri) and Danny Chisholm (senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri). The article also includes some historical quotations.

The second article, Learning from the Spirit of the Missouri Plan, considers what this model of cooperation might mean for the present and future. The article includes comments from Jerry Cain (chancellor of Judson University, an American Baptist school in Illinois), George Bullard (general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship), and Jim Hill (executive director of Churchnet and president of the North American Baptist Fellowship).

I enjoyed working on these pieces and thinking about this unique historical moment (and I appreciate Cain for inspiring the package). I hope the articles will inspire people to think creatively about how we can work together to accomplish more.