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


  1. Are you familiar with Shell Ridge Community Church located in Walnut Creek, CA (SF Bay area)? My friend – Angela Yarber – who once briefly had a blog – is the Associate Pastor there. She helped lead worship as an Artist-in-Residence this past Spring at the Alliance of Baptists meeting and has been asked to do something similar next summer at the BPFNA gathering. The pastor at Shell Ridge is Greg Ledbetter. Angela’s church seems to be a very active peace church. Members often bring their home-made signs and wear their peace t-shirts on Sunday mornings. After church is over, they head out to a rally somewhere in the bay area. I’d love to find a Baptist church like that in Waco!

    Comment by Big Daddy Weave | June 29, 2008

  2. BDW,
    I am very much aware of Shell Ridge Community Church and I know Greg Ledbetter from our mutual participation in BPFNA. I was planning a future profiling of Shell Ridge.

    I know of no Baptist even remotely that peace and justice oriented in Waco. There are some p & j members at Seventh & James BC in Waco (especially Katie Cook, editor of Seeds of Hope and The Baptist Peacemaker. There are also some p & j oriented members at Lake Shore Baptist Church ( http://www.lakeshorewaco.org/index.htm ) in Waco. If I were living in Waco, I would try to start a peacemaker group in one of these churches. If that failed utterly, I would probably attend Hope Mennonite Fellowship in Waco.

    I didn’t want to start this series in California, which is often dismissed as “the Left coast.” I will rotate between profiles of older Baptist congregations like Second BC in Suffield, CT and newer Baptist peace congregations.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 29, 2008

  3. Do the “peace and justice” folks in these churches think that Christian police officers who carry firearms have “betrayed the Gospel”? I suspect that they believe that all use of lethal force is a betrayal of the Gospel. But do they think that the use of non-lethal violence is always a betrayal of the Gospel?

    Still waiting!

    Comment by Dan Hollander | June 30, 2008

  4. Hollander, you can wait all you want. I am not sidetracking other posts to follow either you or Randle into a discussion over armed police. I gave an article to read on the subject and it is all I have to say. Keep trying to hijack other threads for your own personal agenda and you will be banned.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 30, 2008

  5. Why is this a “personal agenda”? I’ve just asked a simple question. Is it really too hard to answer it in even a sentence or two? Aren’t you in favor of open dialogue?

    All I’m asking is whether you believe the teachings of Jesus or the Gospel prohibit not only lethal violence but non-lethal violence as well. The point of the police officers is just to get at that larger point.

    Comment by Dan Hollander | July 1, 2008

  6. I would really be interested in getting an answer to Dan Hollander’s question. It seems important.

    Comment by Jennifer | July 2, 2008

  7. Then you’ll have to wait until I decide to discuss that. This is a PERSONAL blog and, like everyone else with one, I decide what topics I’ll discuss and when. I have watched too many friends with blogs have their threads hijacked by those who come to them to discuss what THEY want and when they want.

    The question of non-lethal violence, especially as related to police, is important. I have discussed it before and will again. But it is not the simple matter that Dan Hollander posits and I was greatly put off by his mocking tone, so I will wait until I have gotten over that nastiness before I decide to tackle question.

    There are other blogs written by Christian pacifists–see the the entire peace blog web-ring. Perhaps one of them wants to address the topic sooner.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | July 2, 2008

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