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

Summer Conference: Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America 23-28 July 2007

I look forward every year to “peace camp,” as the children and youth have taught us to call the summer conferences of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.  I am a part of ecumenical peace & justice groups (e.g., Every Church a Peace Church; Christian Peacemaker Teams; etc.) and interfaith peace efforts (e.g., the Fellowship of Reconciliation) and even secular peace and human rights groups where I try to be a Christian presence and witness (e.g., Peace Action; Amnesty International).  All are worthwhile efforts–but they aren’t the same. 

Frederick Buechner has said that we discern our vocations, our callings, when we find the place where the world’s great needs and our passions intersect.  For me, that intersection happens in two places:  in teaching/writing theology (including theological ethics) and in work for peace and human rights.  I will have my dream job when I can do both at once.  In my peacework, sadly, I am often the only Baptist, or one of the few Baptists, in the room. In the U.S., at least, the terms “Baptist” and “peacemaker” or even “justice seeker,” are not automatically connected for most people.  One reason I highlight historic Baptist contributions to such matters on this blog is not because I want to downplay the contributions of others–but because I want to get beyond the stereotypes of Baptists as racists, sexists, militarists, homophobic, anti-environmentalist, neglectful of the poor, etc.  It can be a lonely business.

But every year, for one week, I am definitely not alone.  They come from Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, sometimes Cuba (if we can get the guest visas worked out!), and all over the U.S.  Pastors, theologians, laity, families with children, youth. Canadian Baptists and American Baptists and Seventh Day Baptists, National Baptists and Progressive National Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Cooperative Baptists, Alliance of Baptists, folks from La Fraternidad Iglesias Bautistas de Cuba, and, yes, even some Southern Baptists.  Usually between 200 and 500 strong. Gathering on a college, university, or seminary campus for worship, Bible study, seminars, special presentations, chances for action–and just fun and relaxation, too. Making new friends and renewing old friendships. Renewing spiritual and social and mental resources to be able to take up the work again with new energy.  Being challenged in new ways.  It all happens at peace camp and has for 23 years now–enough time that we are beginning to see the incredible new generation of leaders who began as small children and are now taking up the work in new and creative ways.  It is a week that always gives me hope.

This year I won’t be blogging from the conference, which will be held at Berea College, Berea, Kentucky (an ecumenical Christian liberal arts college founded by 19th C. abolitionists–the first college in the U.S. South open to all races), but I will profile a few of the leaders before I go and take plenty of notes and pictures for the return to share with all of you.  You can grow this kind of network in your denomination and in your part of the world, too. I urge you to do so.

Conference Leaders:

Evelyn Hannemann, Interim Coordinating Director, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America

LeDayne McLeese Polaski, Conference Coordinator (who spends all year working to pull these things off!)

Dr. Michelle Tooley, Lilly Professor of Religious Studies, Berea College, Plenary Keynote Speaker. Dr. Tooley is an expert on nonviolent movements in Central America, especially among women’s groups and church groups. 

Dr. Vern Ratzlaff, of the Mennonite Central Committee in Winnipeg, MB (Canada), Bible Study leader for the week.

Rev. Al Staggs, Baptist hospital chaplain and performance artist who will be sharing his famous one-man performances of The Sermon on the Mount, “Clarence Jordan and the God Movement,” “A View from the Underside: The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” and “Oscar Romero: A Martyr’s Homily.”

Concerts by legendary folk singer Si Kahn and by “Down to Earth,” the husband-wife team of Paul Whitely, Jr. and Kate Sanders (who happen to lead music every week at my church!)

Mural project led by Alicia Pagan and Ray Two Crows Wallen

Elaine Enns a Restorative Justice project

Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, poet, novelist, and retired English professor at the University of Kentucky (a true Kentucky treasure) on sustainable living.

Dr. Glen H. Stassen, Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, Fuller Seminary (and one of the founders of BPFNA)–open session on the paradigm of just peacemaking.

Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, feminist theologian, reclaiming the neglected roots of Christian environmental theology.

Daniel Hunter, 2nd generation Baptist peacemaker (son of 2 of BPFNA’s founders), student and teacher of conflict resolution for grassroots people movements.

And so much more.  My oldest daughter, Molly, will be celebrating her 12th birthday during this year’s peace camp and is moving from the children’s to youth program. She is so excited and so am I.


July 16, 2007 - Posted by | Baptists, peacemaking

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