Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Introducing Seminarians to Peacemaking

I spent today in Lexington, Kentucky (1 1/2 hours from my home in Louisville) at The Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, staffing a resource table for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. The seminary is a progressive alternative to the The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, the mother seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC, as most people probably know, underwent an internal feud (c. 1979-1990) which left this largest Protestant denomination in North America completely controlled by rightwing fundamentalists and creedalists. The mother seminary of the SBC, SBTS in Louisville, resisted complete fundamentalist takeover (although there had been creeping incursions since c. 1987) until the retirement of President Roy Lee Honeycutt (1926-2005) and the selection by seminary trustees of R. Albert Mohler, Jr. as his successor in 1994, after which the school made an incredibly sharp turn to the theological and political rightwing. Like many similar efforts, BSK is a free-standing theological seminary in partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. (BSK is also working to develop relationships with other Baptist groups, especially historic African-American groups such as The National Baptist Convention, USA, The National Baptist Convention of America, and the Progressive National Baptist Convention.)

Baptist Seminary of Kentucky shares the campus of Lexington Theological Seminary , a seminary of The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and is across the street from the Law School of the University of Kentucky. Thus, BSK is part of a growing trend in centrist-to-progressive Baptist theological education: a commitment to historic Baptist distinctives (including academic freedom and liberty of conscience) but taking place in ecumenical settings or partnerships and in university contexts. This seems to me to be right and proper: the spiritual formation and theological education of ministers is not isolated but connected to other expressions of Christian faith and the wider world–just as ministry is.

At any rate, this was an orientation for new and returning students and I was one of many people staffing tables where students found internship possibilities (e.g., Kentucky Hospice, Kentucky Baptist Fellowship’s rural anti-poverty program, the Kentucky Council of Churches’ environmental, racial justice, or prison ministry programs), mission and ministry opportunities (e.g., CROP Walk, Habitat for Humanity, Coalition for the Homeless, and me with the BPFNA), as well as resources to help students connect to the wider world of theological scholarship (e.g., journals such as Interpretation, Theology Today, & The Review and Expositorjournals of serious scholarship but aimed at working pastors rather than requiring advanced technical skills to read & comprehend) and ministry (e.g., Baptists Today, The Christian Century, Preaching, The African American Pulpit.).

It was a fun experience to meet these students, most of whom had never heard of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, introduce them to some of our resources and opportunities and get them excited about attending the 2007 Summer conference (“peace camp” as the children and youth call it) next July in nearby Berea, KY on the campus of Berea College. (Berea College was founded in the 19th C. by Christian abolitionists, was the first integrated college in the South, and is committed to the education of rural Appalachia.) It was also fun to meet with fellow exhibitors and connect with the wide array of ministry opportunities in my adopted state. Since several of my former teachers (before the fundamentalist takeover of SBTS) are, in retirement, part-time faculty at BSK, it was also fun to be reunited with the likes of Wade Rowatt (psychology of religion and pastoral counseling) and E. Glenn Hinson (one of the finest church historians Baptists have ever produced and also a longtime leader in the renewal of contemplative spirituality and devotion among Baptists).

I came away excited about the possibilities before this young seminary (although the legal and financial groundwork was laid in the 1990s, BSK only opened its doors in 2002 and graduated its first class in 2005) and its students. The world is changing quickly in this new millennium, with unique opportunities, challenges, and dangers. But these students (most twentysomethings, but some older) seemed eager to do ministry in such a context, prepared by grounding in spiritual and ministerial formation, intense study of Scripture, the historic traditions of the church (including, but not limited to, Baptist distinctives), exposure to the wide range of contemporary theology and ethics, and hands-on ministerial opportunities. It was good to represent BPFNA and present students with the challenge of seeing Jesus’ call to justice seeking and peacemaking as a vital part of their education and ministry. I hope it will be the beginning of many opportunities to connect to the work of this and similar schools and the current renewal in theological education in North America.


August 19, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, church, peacemaking | 15 Comments