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

New Baptist Covenant & the Nazareth Agenda

What do Baptists talk about when we gather?  Well, many things, but if one was to answer this based only on news reports of the annual meetings of many U.S. Baptist denominations, one would think that this was a pretty narrow agenda: 1) How many points of Calvinism must one believe in order to love Jesus and know that Jesus loves you? 2) Does drinking an occasional beer or glass of wine make you a sinner (or, Must one be holier than Jesus)? 3) Can you be a missionary if you speak in tongues? 4)Just how evil are churches that call women as pastors? 5)What new condemnations may we heap on people of same-sex orientation?

I have phrased these issues in a very sarcastic manner because I think this is how they look to others. I believe the fights and agendas of such Baptists are petty and mean-spirited and place stumbling blocks to faith in Christ–other than the stumbling block of the gospel (1 Cor. 1:23).    Even “progressive” Baptists sometimes get narrow:  Our meetings can take on a self-congratulatory “look how different we are from benighted fundamentalists” tone that is pharisaical and a mirror image of the fundamentalism we reject. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I am excited about the upcoming Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta, GA 30 January-1 2008 not only because of the number of different Baptist groups that will be represented–crossing old divisions of race, region, ethnicity, theology, and worship style.  I am also excited because the agenda for the meeting is the agenda Jesus adopted in his Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4:18-19).  Imagine Baptists gathering to focus on Jesus’ agenda instead of our own narrow agendas, adopting the priorities that Christ announced in his hometown as the reason for his mission–and ours.

The five (5) plenary sessions of the Celebration will focus on:

  • Unity in Seeking Peace with Justice
  • Unity in Bringing Good News to the Poor
  • Unity in Respecting Diversity
  • Unity in Welcoming the Stranger
  • Unity in Setting Captives Free

In addition, there will be workshops on racism (America’s original sin), religious liberty, poverty, the AIDS pandemic, the role of faith in public policy, stewardship of the earth, evangelism (although, from another perspective, all of this is evangelistic in that it is proclamation of the whole gospel), financial stewardship, and prophetic preaching. 

We Baptists are good at disagreeing with each other and dividing over our disagreements.  I am excited about the possibility of uniting for once–and uniting around Jesus’ Nazareth Agenda.  This gathering might not only be “genuinely Baptist,” if it isn’t careful the world might actually see it as “genuinely Christian” and glorify the One Jesus called “Abba, Father.” I wouldn’t be surprised if all heaven didn’t break loose!

June 7, 2007 - Posted by | Baptists


  1. Dear Michael,

    I am sure Heaven will break loose over Jesus’ agenda but I do not know if it will over the NBC agenda. Of course, I’m just kidding around.

    I know you will be busy but maybe we could plan for some coffee or lunch. I know some cool ecletic getaways to have a bite. We might even invite BDW.

    Grace. With that, I am…


    Comment by peter lumpkins | June 8, 2007

  2. Do I take it that you live in Atlanta, Peter? Last summer, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America met in Atlanta. You should have come.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 8, 2007

  3. […] Baptists in convention from the outside (and inside) at Levelers. […]

    Pingback by Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Morning Highlights | June 8, 2007

  4. Great post, Michael. Here’s looking forward to next winter!

    Comment by texasinafrica | June 8, 2007

  5. This Anglican is almost tempted to attempt to come…

    Comment by Tim | June 17, 2007

  6. You’d be welcome, Tim. At all the “good” Baptist meetings, such as meetings of the Baptist Peace Fellowship or the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, etc., we always have ecumenical guests–and we reciprocate whenever invited. So come on–meet us in Atlanta!

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 17, 2007

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