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

Baptist Peace Churches #1

I have been writing a book profiling Baptist congregations that do not fit the stereotype. You know the stereotype I mean: fundamentalist in doctrine, triumphalist in denominational pride (often acting as if Baptists, or even their particular Baptist denomination, were the only true Christians), demeaning to women, having a membership that is almost completely WASP, believing that “bigger is better” in all things, neglectful of any work for peace and social justice, etc. 

I have been profiling Baptist congregations that embody Kingdom values of work for peace with justice.  I thought that I might share a few of these profiles on this blog.  There are great congregations like this in many theological traditions within Christianity. I focus on Baptists here because this is my tradition and because the popular view of Baptists is so very different.

I begin with The Second Baptist Church of Suffield, Suffield, CT.  Founded in 1805, Second BC describes itself as “A Beloved Community of Jesus Christ Engaging Faith, Worship, Fellowship, and Loving Action.”

The roots of Second BC, as with almost all Baptist congregations in CT, dates to the “Great Awakening” in the 18th C. led by Congregationalist minister/theologian Jonothan Edwards and the transatlantic evangelist, George Whitefield.  To the consternation of the Congregationalist establishment (“Standing Order”) in New England, Baptists and Methodists (and others) benefitted more by the “New Light” revival than did the Congregationalists among whom it started.  This led to the formation of The First Baptist Church of Suffield in 1790.  This was soon such a large and influential congregation that it needed to form a mission congregation, leading to the peaceful formation of Second BC in 1805. (This was NOT the result of a church split. Second BC had the enthusiastic support of the mother congregation.)

Second BC of Suffield is part of the American Baptist Churches, USA, the oldest Baptist “denomination” in the U.S.–a successor to the old “Trienniel Baptist Convention” prior to the separation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 (which separated in order to defend the right of missionaries to own slaves!). It upholds the American Baptist emphases on the centrality of Christ and the principles of liberty of conscience, the freedom and responsibility of every Christian and local congregation to interpret and obey Scripture, local congregational freedom, religious liberty and church-state separation, Believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the priesthood of all believers, the principle of association of local churches (balancing congregational liberty), missions and evangelism, racial diversity (the American Baptist Churches is the most racially diverse denomination in the USA), social justice, and ecumenical cooperation.

Out of the conviction that “believing and doing are one,” Second BC of Suffield adopted the following mission statement:

“The grace of Jesus Christ calls us into
a community of faith
embracing God’s Justice and love for all.
We draw upon the stories of the past for insight,
the experiences of the present for instruction,
and the hope of the future for inspiration.
We welcome all who join us in this endeavor
through worship, education, mission, and service
in the name of Christ. “
Second BC of Suffield is heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity building homes with and for the poor.  They also work with Loaves and Fishes food pantries and soup kitchens in Enfield and Springfield, CT.  They work with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.  They work to defend religious liberty and church-state separation in cooperation with the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, a people’s lobby in Washington, D.C. which is related to 9 different Baptist denominations. 
Second BC of Suffield is a partner congregation of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Since 2005, Second BC of Suffield has been led by their pastor, Rev. David Reed-Brown, an M.Div. graduate of Andover-Newton Theological School, the oldest free-standing seminary in North America. Andover-Newton is an ecumenical seminary related to American Baptists and the United Church of Christ. It grew out of the merger of Andover Seminary (founded in 1807 by Congregationalists), which trained the great American Baptist missionary to Burma, Adonirom Judson) and Newton Theological Institute (founded in 1825 by Baptists).  Rev. Reed-Brown also spent half a year in education at United Theological College, Bangalore, India, which has given him a global, transcultural perspective on church ministry and Christian faith.
If you are ever in Suffield, CT, look up Second Baptist Church–one of many Baptist peace churches.

June 29, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, church | 7 Comments