February 4, 2008

Celebration Reflections

After a couple of days to catch up on sleep and to reflect, here are some overall thoughts about the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. It was truly a historic and exciting gathering for several reasons:

1. Unity. Seeing about 15,000 Baptists come together in order to demonstrate that we are willing to worship, fellowship, and minister together despite some differences was an exciting thing to see and be part of. Baptists have been tragically divided and have allowed this to impede missions efforts. We do not have to agree on all things in order to work together to share the love of Jesus. He prayed in John 17 that we would be one so that the world would see God's love. And yet, despite the biblical mandate, we have too often focused on our differences instead of our common calling. We are brothers and sisters in Christ and must come together as members of the same body. It was exciting to see Baptists showing that they cared about this biblical mandate and about sharing the love of Jesus by uniting in love. I truly hope we will continue to learn how to work together and put aside the divisiveness of the past.

2. Reconciliation. This was truly the most diverse Baptist meeting I have ever been to. It is one thing to say we love all people, but it is another to demonstrate it. It is especially good since, despite improvements over the last couple of decades, there is still much progress to be made. It is said that the Sunday worship hour is the most segregated of the week. That may be an exaggeration but it is sadly indicative of a real problem. Although there were Baptist heroes who prophetically stood up for racial equality during critical times, many Baptists tragically supported slavery and then segregation. Not only were African-American Baptists strong in attendance, but they were included in key roles in the organizing of the gathering from the beginning. It is good that Baptists are coming together to undue wrongs and try to fulfill the dream of the Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. And worship and prayer is much more exciting with our African-American brothers and sisters.

3. Worship. The sermons were great, as was the music. You can watch the main session speeches online here, and I would especially recommend Tony Campolo, John Grisham, Chuck Grassley, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton. These and other speeches were thought-provoking and inspirational. They challenged me to seriously consider what it means to be a follower of Christ and how to live out my faith. I did not agree with everything they said, and that is okay because they made me think about it and that is a good thing. I felt like the gathering went deeper into exploring our faith than often occurs at Baptist meetings. And the song times were exciting as they had great special music. My favorite by far was on the last night when The Morehouse College Glee Club sang. They were incredible and high energy, and it is too bad the music parts are not online.

4. Fellowship. It was good to see some people that I had not seen for some time, as well as meet many others for the first time. It was especially nice to meet people in person that I had only spoken with online, such as Bob Allen of Ethics Daily, Rob Marus of Associated Baptist Press, Aaron Weaver, Ben Cole, and Keith Herron. It was great to meet and get autographed books from David Gushee and Tony Campolo and to briefly meet Jimmy Carter again. It was also really great to meet people at Smyth & Helwys who helped me with my book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!), including Keith Gammons, Griff Hogan, and Lex Horton (and, of course, it was nice to see people buying my book from them). The friendly spirit in the hallways confirmed that people were having a great time meeting and visiting with each other.

5. Positive. The critics of the event who made wild predictions about how it would be a Democratic pep rally and a time for bashing Southern Baptists were wrong. Carter declared on the opening night that the gathering would stay focused and positive, and it did (he also made it very clear that his beliefs about salvation are orthodox). It was great that the meeting was a time to consider what we are for instead of what we are against. And it was a time when all Baptists were invited to join hands to share the love of Jesus. Although national SBC leaders were not there, many Southern Baptists were and had been part of the organizers. Southern Baptists were praised and welcomed to join with their Baptist brothers and sisters. Also, it was not a political rally. Bill Clinton was the only plenary speaker to praise a presidential candidate, but it was Republican Mike Huckabee who he praised (and that was to illustrate why we should work together despite our differences). I hope that now those who were skeptical will become more willing to unite with their fellow Baptists. There are already signs of this as SBC president Frank Page moved from being a strong critic to expressing prayers for the gathering.

The Celebration was truly a great gathering. I am very grateful to those who worked so hard to make it what it was, and am glad I got to attend. I hope the messages from the Celebration will continue to ripple through Baptist life. I echo Jimmy Allen's hope that the Celebration will not be just a meeting but a movement.

20 comments:

  1. Great recap, Brian. I'm sorry we didn't get to meet!

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  2. Yeah, sorry I missed you. When I spoke with Aaron "BDW" Weaver, he said he had run into you.

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  3. I am wondering how the leaders of the SBC might be reacting to the number of attendees compared to the number of attendees the the Southern Baptist Conventions of recent years.
    Does anyone think it might tell them something? Nah!
    Mac McFatter
    Semmes, Al

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  4. Chuck9:03 AM

    Brian,

    You'll be glad to know I watched/listened to President Carter's address.

    He was charming, articulate and had many good things to say.

    He indicated that, among the Baptists/Christians gathered there, "we are saved" in the orthodox, Baptist way. He even promoted evangelism, indicating that the lost can be saved in the same manner.

    However, he said nothing to eliminate the possibility that he believes some may come to God through paths other than faith in Jesus. This possibility is strengthened by his alleged 2007 comments on Mormonism and Judaism reported by Newsweek and Rabbi Lerner, respectively.

    For his and the NBC's sake, Carter should refute those reports and the reporters.

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  5. Chuck: I am glad you listened, but you apparently were not willing to give up your bias and attacks. Give it up! He said absolutely nothing in that address that could suggest your attacks have any merits. In fact, since he talked about the importance of Jesus in salvation then there is no way the Rabbi's remark could be true. Until you get some real evidence, quit spreading your false claims. You are bearing false witness against your brother. You have no real evidence and yet attack him anyway. You need to repent and stop! That may sound harsh, but that is the truth. Until you have some real evidence, I will ignore your inaccurate attacks on your brother in Christ with a simple statement: "Since I have clearly refuted your inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims, quit bearing false witness against your brother."

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  6. Chuck9:50 AM

    Charlie,

    The NBC attendance might tell SBC leaders that it took 30 or so other Baptist conventions/bodies/entities to double or 150% the attendance at recent SBC annual meetings.

    However, the real consideration might be the number of young adults attending the NBC, since this number has been markedly declining in the SBC.

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  7. Brian,

    Again, you respond with emotion instead of journalistic integrity. Please stop referring to my concern as an attack.

    I responded to a parenthetical comment in your post (which looked a lot like it was addressing me). I'm not looking for condemning evidence. I'm simply concerned with the unrefuted "evidence" that has existed for months!

    In our most recent dialog prior to the NBC, I stated the reasons why you have not--because you cannot--refuted the reports of Carter's statements any more than I can substantiate them. You ignored the points, which is fine. They stand.

    Only Carter can refute the reports and reporters, and he should.

    Brian, you'd be more effective if you'd stick to the content, and stop maligning my character and motives.

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  8. Chuck: I first responded journalistically but that did not work so I hoped a more emotional response would help you see the clear error of your argument. Don't try to claim you have not attacked Carter. You have maligned his character by claiming that his theology is unbiblical and that he should not be a Baptist leader. That is an attack! You even used your attacks on Carter to attack the Celebration.

    I have repeatedly refuted your lousy claims. As I have explained repeatedly, when there are contradicting reports, you do not accept the one you want to (as you have apparently done), but consider which side is more reliable. In this case there is no question for anyone willing to honestly and journalistically consider the facts. Your side has only a couple of unclear and unreliable pieces to back it up, while my side has the vast majority and the most credible evidence. Anyone who looked at this journalistically would reject your arguments quite quickly. Only someone reacting on bias and emotion would choose your claim. Come spend a semester in Columbia so you can take one of my classes to learn about evidence and source credibility. If a student made an argument with such lousy evidence as you have, they would get a very bad grade. In comments on other issues you have proven that you are intelligent, so I cannot figure out why you have allowed a bias to so badly cloud your judgment on this issue. What is your real problem with Carter? Why did you already not like him before you read these two accounts?

    I cannot beleive I have wasted so much time since you clearly are unwilling to accept reality. You seem to have already made up your mind and are unwilling to accept the facts. That is too bad. Since I have clearly refuted your inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims, quit bearing false witness against your brother.

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  9. Chuck: As for your attendance observation, you do make a good point. The thirty Baptist groups together are more than the SBC but not much so it is a good attendance rate for the Celebration. However, the age issue is quite important. If the SBC is not carefully, it seems they will lose the younger Baptists to other endeavors like the Celebration and non-denominational gatherings.

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  10. Chuck4:18 PM

    Brian,

    Let me say it again: You cannot refute my claims--not because you're not smart or sharp, but simply because I claim nothing more than that there exist printed articles of statements Carter reportedly made which, if true, disqualify him as leader of any authentic Baptist movement. The only way to eliminate the doubt is for Carter himself to refute the reports and the reporters. You can't.

    Your idea of what characterizes an "attack" is quite twisted.

    I have never referred to anything about Jimmy Carter not stemming from those reported pluralist-sounding statements attributed to him. That's not bearing false witness against a brother. Rather, it's quite true that Newsweek reported what it did, and that Rabbi Lerner claimed what he did. Newsweek is reputable enough to be acknowledged, and The Baptist Standard linked Lerner's claim.

    Because of all the NBC purports to present as "Baptist" to a secular society, Carter is not qualified to lead it if the unrefuted statements are true.

    I believe, with no apologies, that the exclusivity of Jesus Christ to save is an important "traditional Baptist value," is essential to an "authentic Baptist witness," and must not be muddied in any "new prophetic voice"--all listed as NBC objectives.

    His silence on such severe reports would suggest Carter may not be qualified to teach a SS class, much less lead the NBC. You, however, seem willing to swallow and follow without hesitation or question. You claim that Carter's silence exempts him from any current implications or allegations--that what he said sometime in the past speaks authoritatively. That simply isn't so. People sometimes change their minds or gradually reveal more of what they truly beleive.

    Your out-of-place defense in speaking for someone who chooses not to speak for himself is characteristic of an emotional response, not of a logical, rational, journalistic, or responsible one.

    You, the Christian journalist, should lead the way in clearing this up. Get him to say Lerner lied and explain his Mormonism answer to Newsweek. Then, I'd breathe a sigh of relief and shut up.

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  11. Chuck: Yes, I can refute and have successfully pointed out your flawed arguments. You are unwilling to accept reality. You again say that Carter should not lead a Baptist movement, which is an attack. If you are not attacking him, there is no point for you to be upset by him. Be honest and admit you are attacking him.

    I also believe, with no apologies, that the exclusivity of Jesus Christ to save is an important "traditional Baptist value," is essential to an "authentic Baptist witness," and must not be muddied in any "new prophetic voice"--all listed as NBC objectives. And if you were actually at the gathering you would have heard that it was not muddled. It was not muddled in Carter’s comments. People do change, but Carter's most recent comments--including those at the Celebration--prove you wrong.

    I have met my journalistic responsibility and do not need you--who cling to unreliable evidence and have flip-flopped (lied?) on the Rabbi's claims--to lecture me about journalistic responsibility. It would be irresponsible for any journalist to make the claims you make with such lousy evidence. It would even get a failing grade in a freshman entry-level college course. Please quit allowing your prejudice against Carter to cloud your judgment.

    Since I have clearly refuted your inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims, quit bearing false witness against your brother.

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  12. Chuck4:32 AM

    Brian,

    No, you don't qualify to refute my concerns because you're not the one who was quoted or, hopefully, misquoted.

    I'm quite content to let any readers you might have judge our arguments on their merits.

    I'm sure you're a teacher I could learn some things from at Mizzou, but I'd ask for my registration fee back if you presented your head-in-the-sand, throw-principle- out-the-window approach to this case.

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  14. There were too many typo's in the first edition of this comment.

    First, I responded to your comment on my blog. I find this a sad place for us to start any discussion. This coment thread has already been hijacked, but I'd like you to know that I have read a number of your posts today and really appreciate the spirit with which you interact with others.

    Second, I do not mean to be objectively critical of the NBC, but subjectively. Basically, it was definitely the right motive, but accomplished with the wrong actions. We should all be working together on social issues (living out our faith) and meeting together to do so (way to go NBC!), but it cannot be a spiritual awakening when we are not of one faith. (see my response for further explanation) That is the failing of the NBC.

    I really do appreciate the initiative. If I were not in Africa, I would have gone.

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  15. Chuck: Yes, I can refute it by pointing out how you have no reliable evidence to make your claims. His refutation would be stronger, but your attack is so weak that it does not even need him to respond. It would be a waste of his breath (as it has been of even mine) to deal with your lousy claims.

    I'm sure you would want your money back because you are too scared of actually learning. It would be upsetting to a student like you to actually have to think and critically examine evidence. I find it ironic that you use your approach to describe me.

    Since I have clearly refuted your inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims, quit bearing false witness against your brother.

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  16. Shadrach: Thanks for the comment and sorry you had to wade through Chuck's broken record (he is just upset that his attacks on the Celebration for months did not come true).

    I think you are wrong to say we are not of one faith. After all, many conservatives and Southern Baptists were there (just not SBC leaders, unless you count Dwight McKissic or the Baptist Press). We disagree on some areas of biblical interpretation, but we are all Baptists who believe in the Bible. We are all Baptists who believe that salvation comes through Jesus. And we are all Baptists who believe that we must take our faith and live it out (like you are doing).

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  17. Brian,

    I'll clarify one more time:

    They're not my lousy claims. They're the printed reports--lousy or not to be determined--of Newsweek magazine and Rabbi Michael Lerner, as referenced by The Baptist Standard.

    And they're still not answered. You and I are writing volumes while the only person who can address the matter doesn't.

    You say you wish he would, but doesn't need to. I say he has to, and you should ask him.

    As for the personal slams you've made on me in this thread, I'm overlooking them. I know you're upset.

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  18. Chuck: Your attack on Carter is lousy because the evidence is bad. Just because something is in print does not mean it is true. That is why I have been trying to teach you about the importance of evaluating evidence and source credibility. The Rabbi has made things up before and admitted that he could not verify Carter's remark and Newsweek has made mistakes before.

    I am sorry if I have been too personal, but I am quite upset that you continue to attack Carter and the Celebration without any good evidence. Being wrongly accused tends to get me upset.

    Since I have clearly refuted your inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims, quit bearing false witness against your brother.

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  19. Brian,

    This is my final comment on this post. If you choose, you can have the final word, even end it as you have your previous 5 comments to me on this subject. (And you apologize to Shadrach about me playing a broken record?!) I get this picture of your judgmental-sounding admonition still copied on your clipboard, ready to paste and blast.

    To begin, let me summarize what must be your latest journalistic standard, based on your repeated claim to have refuted my "lousy evidence." Here it is: Someone saying nothing to refute a written report of what same someone recently said proves that the report and reporter are wrong based on portions of what same someone said prior to the report, as referenced by an outside, third party.

    Whew, that's a mouth-full.

    But, this contradicts--and rightly so--the standard you expressed in your Sept. 20, 2007 thread comments when you scolded commenter Mike thusly, to quote you:

    "Your attempt to pass blame onto the reporter (without any evidence) seems like a stretch and is ironic. You are claiming I do not have the full story and then offer a scenario out of thin air. At least my comments are based on printed statements and not pure conjecture. Additionally, if Oldham was misquoted or misled why has he not spoken out about it yet? If he is going to be the Convention's spokesperson on this issue then he needs to be clear enough to avoid trick questions (which has not been demonstrated in this case)."

    Substitute "Carter" for "Oldham" and "NBC's" for "Convention's", and your exact words are my words to you now.

    Further, my suggesting that Carter be asked to clear up the written reports of his non-Baptist, pluralist comments don't constitute an "attack" on, or "bearing false witness" against him. I've not said the reports are true, though you conjecture they're not. I'm saying the reports exist, and that we won't know about their veracity until or unless Carter speaks to them.

    I've said nothing derogatory attacking the NBC. My constant point has been that, until the reports are refuted by Carter, he's not a suitable spokesman for an authentic Baptist movement. He clouds the "authentic Baptist witness." Baptists like me need to know the reports and reporters are wrong before jumping into the NBC. That's not an attack.

    Finally, just because something is in print that you don't like, or don't think is true, doesn't mean it isn't true. Newsweek's been around a long time and is perceived in our society (those to whom we're giving the Baptist witness) as a worthy source. The progressive Rabbi likes Carter, and wouldn't like to see any anti-State of Israel influence he has or might have with Baptists diminished. Lerner wouldn't--not necessarily couldn't--verify Carter's remarks. Who knows with him?

    Brian, I hope you'll work with your true journalistic and Christian standards to address this matter that begs to be cleared up. Just because I'm the only one pointing this out--and I'm not "noteworthy" as you have pointed out--doesn't mean the truth shouldn't be pursued until it's found. An authentic Christian--not merely Baptist--witness depends on it.

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  20. Chuck: I am glad you are going to finally let this drop. I still cannot believe you have made such a big deal out of such lousy evidence.

    I do not need you to lecture me about journalistic standards. You have shown no evidence or background of understanding such and you have shown a complete inability to judge source credibility or evidence. Until you can figure out that basic lesson, save the lectures on journalism.

    I've explained the important difference in the Oldham and Carter case. With Oldham it was him speaking to the newspaper, not another person (the Rabbi). Additionally, the Rabbi said he could verify his remark and has made up things in the past. Thus, the credibility of the sources (there's that important source credibility problem for you again) is a key difference. You even admitted at one point that the Rabbi's remark could not be trusted and promised not to use it anymore (why did you lie to me?). Additionally, Oldham's remark was on a subject he has not spoken on much and thus we do not have much to compare it with to see if he was misquoted. Carter, on the other hand, has said and written tons on salvation and Jesus and so there is a large and clear record that casts large doubt on the claims you have made. Two big differences between the cases. Again, please learn to critically evaluate sources and situations and not just take the side you want (especially before you start lecturing about journalistic standards).

    This idea that you have not attacked Carter or the Celebration is quite bizarre. You have said he should not be a Baptist leader and that Baptists should not be part of the Celebration because of him. That is an attack. If it were not an attack, then why would you care to keep bringing it up. Please at least be honest.

    As one who was at the Celebration it was clear that Carter and the others brought an authentic Christian and Baptist witness. Since I have clearly refuted your inaccurate and unsubstantiated claims, quit bearing false witness against your brother.

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