My Mom was raised in the Southern Baptist Church here in Washington—a denomination deeply rooted in the Bible Belt, that has shaped the Christian landscape of the South for decades. She left that denomination, with relief, when she was a teenager, after being invited by a friend to join other teens at a local LutherLeague (youth group). In the Lutheran Church she began to hear about a gracious God, and she liked the God she met there. No doubt the kindness of her Lutheran friends made that transition even more attractive.
Mom’s decision to leave the SBC was confirmed for her in midlife, when her own mother—newly widowed—decided to return to church after my grandfather died. (My Granddad had been ill, so my grandmother had faded from weekly worship, while taking care of him.) When she returned to church, the elders of her local congregation questioned her fitness for membership, and pressed her to name the precise date on which she had been “saved.” My grandma was looking for welcome; instead she got scrutiny. My mother introduced her to our local congregation.
This past month the Southern Baptist Convention (at their national assembly), declared that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred and should not be flown in public spaces. And this past week a leader in the SBC declared that “soul freedom” was so integral to human dignity that Christians should not seek to restrict the rights of Muslim citizens to practice their faith.
This is mind-blowing stuff. A denomination known for its fundamentalist views, and prescriptive faith, is defending the rights of people of color and of different faith traditions. The church’s words are prophetic.
I don’t think it’s an accident that we are hearing these surprising public declarations by the SBC in 2016. We live in a country and world that is feeling pretty unkind. The presumptive GOP presidential candidate wants to restrict Muslims from living in or emigrating to the U.S. The U.K. has voted to leave the European Union, and some Brits have taken this (marginal) vote as permission to express their racial and ethnic hatred. Isolationism abounds. (We humans want to feel safe, so we push away those we don’t understand or know or look like.)
But notice what the notoriously closed Southern Baptist Convention is doing: Opening up. Becoming vulnerable. Practicing being the neighbor (like the Good Samaritan). They are risking reaching out to those who are not like them. Or, to use Paul’s words, they are living by the Spirit.
In Galatians 5 Paul calls the Church not to live by fear or self-interest, but to live open-hearted with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” It’s what I am amazed and overjoyed to see in these two actions of the Southern Baptist Church.
That open-heartedness--in us, at Calvary, in Federal Way, for the sake of the stranger—is also what will make the world a less hostile and more welcoming place.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Hate doesn’t drive out hate. Love drives out hate.” So Jesus calls us to show our faith by bearing the fruit of the Spirit. And so I urge you, who are loved by Christ, to be a “little Christ” in our community: Love, be joyful-patient-kind-generous-faithful-gentle, and practice self-control. And in you, in us—Jesus’ people here at Calvary—the people of Federal Way (Muslim, homeless, atheistic, skeptical, gay, black, brown, and gray) will see the Spirit’s fruitfulness.
Your sister in faith,