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

Peace Church Influences on My Thought: Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers

I’m working on the next installment of the series on pacifism and the Bible, but here is a small interlude.  I have on this blog tried to describe major people who have influenced my life and thought, both from within my Baptist tradition, and from other traditions in the Body of Christ (and, indeed, Jewish influences, too).  But as a Christian pacifist from a branch in the Believers’ Church family, I have been more influenced by people from the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites, Brethren, Friends/Quakers) than any other segment of non-Baptist theologians.   I owe special gratitude to Mennonites–I feel very close to Mennonites.  This is a small token of my deep gratitude.

Mennonite Influences:

I am probably one of the few Baptists to have read the collected works of the Dutch Anabaptist leader, Menno Simons (1496-1591). I’ve actually read through Menno’s works 3 times.  He has areas of weakness, such as his strange adoption late in his life of Melchior Hoffmann’s “celestial flesh” theory of Jesus’ virgin birth.  But Menno’s Foundation of Christian Doctrine, which was deeply influential on first generation Particular Baptists in England, is absolutely brilliant.  I have not studied other 16th C. Anabaptists as deeply as with Menno, but I have read parts of the works of Conrad Grebel and Michael Sattler, Balthasar Hubmaier (whose defense of believers’ baptism and theological repudiation of the persecution of heretics is brilliant), and Pilgram Marpeck.  I have not been influenced by later Mennonite thinkers between the 16th and the 20th centuries.

Of course, the strongest Mennonite influence on me has been from the late John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) but I have written on that elsewhere. I first encountered Yoder’s works in 1982, shortly after leaving the U.S. army as a conscientious objector.  Yoder was my introduction to Anabaptists and Mennonites–so, for the longest time, I thought that Yoder was typical of Mennonites and did not realize that he was somewhat controversial within his own tradition–though also a major influence on that tradition.

Other Mennonite influences include:

Ronald J. Sider, Mennonite from a Brethren-in-Christ background, founder of Evangelicals for Social Action and Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary, Wynnewood, PA (formerly known as Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary).  Sider first radicalized me in my concerns for the global poor.

Perry B. Yoder (Yoder is a common name among Mennonites), Professor of Old Testament, Emeritus at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary first helped me to find the strong peacemaking (with justice) theme in the Old Testament.  Other Mennonite Old Testament scholars who have been helpful to me include Jacob Enz, Millard C. Lind, Waldemar Janzen, Elmer A. Marten, and Ben Ollenburger.  Lind’s work on the Holy War texts has been very helpful (if not completely satisfying at every point),  and Janzen’s “paradigmatic” approach to Old Testament ethics makes a great compliment to that of Methodist OT theologian Bruce C. Birch. (Get both Birch’s and Janzen’s works on Old Testament ethics–and ignore that of Christopher Wright.)

Willard Swartley, is the Mennonite NT scholar who has influenced me the most (though I disagree with him on “homosexuality”).  Other Mennonite NT scholars with whom I regularly interact include Tom Yoder Neufeld, Lois Y. Barrett, Dorothy Jean Weaver, William Klassen, Donald Kraybill,  and David Rensberger.

Among Mennonite theologians and ethicists who have had major impacts on my thought are: J. Denny Weaver (especially for his rethinking of atonement in light of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence), Clarence Bauman, Ted Grimsrud (whom I think is fast becoming a major theologian among Mennonites whom non-Mennonites need to hear), Thomas Finger (who interacted with the eschatological theology of Moltmann in a VERY helpful way), C. Norman Kraus (missionary cross-cultural dialogue that keeps Jesus at the heart of theology), my friend Mark Theissen Nation (who, in addition to being one of the leading experts on the thought of John Howard Yoder, also interacts helpfully with Stanley Hauerwas, Nancey Murphy, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, my own teacher, Glen Stassen, and with his own teacher, James Wm. McClendon, Jr.), my friend Duane K. Friesen (especially for using conflict resolution studies, and the work of Gene Sharp to forge a post-Reinhold Niebuhr realist form of Christian pacifism, and for his more recent work on theology of culture beyond Troeltsch and H.R.Niebuhr), my friend Ted Koontz (for his interactions with Just War thinking and his helping to forge the emerging ethic of Just Peacemaking) and his better half, Gayle Gerber Koontz ( for Mennonite feminist theology, for several collaborative works and for helping disciples of H. Richard Niebuhr and disciples of John Howard Yoder better understand each other).

The African-American historian (and friend of Martin Luther King, Jr.), Vincent G. Harding, is a Mennonite historian who has influenced my view of both U.S. history and the civil rights movement.

I need also to briefly mention such friends as Leo Hartshorn, Susan Mark Landis, Gerald Schlabach, Keith Graber Miller, John K. Stoner (who was also my employer for a time), Ray C. Gingrich, Marian Franz, and Joseph Kotva.  I am doubtless forgetting many.  Suffice it to say that, as an “Anabaptist-Baptist,” Mennonites have given me a second spiritual home.  During my time as a Visiting Professor in far-off Pasadena, CA, I split my church attendance between First Baptist of Pasadena and Pasadena Mennonite Church.  I have also been welcomed into the congregational hearts (and sometimes the pulpits) of Peace Mennonite Church in Dallas, TX, First Mennonite Church, Allentown, PA, Lancaster Mennonite Church, Lancaster, PA, College Mennonite Church, Goshen, IN, Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, IN .

Church of the Brethren influences:  Smaller in number, but still significant.  I love the blending of German pietism with Anabaptism in the CoB.  I am still reading the great founders of the Dunker/Brethren movement, Alexander Mack, Sr. and Jr. 

The C o B. church historian, Donald Durnbaugh wrote a study of the Believers Church tradition that I continue to use in courses on ecclesiology and ethics.  I am deeply impressed by the feminist C o B theologian, Lauree Hersch Meyer and by philosopher of religion, Nancey Murphy, who was raised Catholic and converted as an adult to the Church of the Brethren after a course on 16th C. Anabaptism. Widow of the late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon, Jr., Nancey is a friend and a powerful scholar who does much work on the interaction of science and faith and on post-liberal approaches to theology and ethics.

Vernard B. Eller was very wrongheaded in his attack on all feminist-inspired inclusive language for God, and his laudable efforts to communicate to non-experts could sometimes give his writings a non-scholarly look and feel, but he introduced me to the importance of Jacques Ellul and “Christian anarchy,” and he showed how to re-think Kierkegaard in a direction more appropriate for a more communal, less individualistic, ecclesiology.

Dale W. Brown has continued to be a model of communicating Biblical pacifism to mass audiences.

Dan Ulrich in New Testament and Stephen Breck Reid in Old Testament both are Brethren biblical scholars who deeply influence me.  Reid, who is African-American, is a major voice in cross-cultural biblical interpretation.

I doubtless need far more contact with scholars in this Historic Peace Church.  The first peace studies program in North America came from a Church of the Brethren college and one of the C o B programs inspired the birth of the Peace Corps.

Influences from Friends/Quakers:  The early 17th C. Friends, growing out of a radical Puritanism, combined a high Christology with a mystic theology. I identify with those Christocentric early Quakers. But the movement splintered (especially in the U.S.) in the 19th C. between liberal (Hicksite) Friends who kept the unprogrammed meetings and resisted conforming Friends to the rising evangelicalism, but which seemed, in many cases, to lose the Christocentrism of George Fox, Margaret Fell, Barclay, Woolman and others.  Many in today’s liberal Friends (part of the Wider Quaker Fellowship) embrace a relativistic form of universalism that is not concerned that Quakerism remain Christian.  On the other hand, Evangelical Friends have programmed meetings, pastors, and look and feel much like evangelical churches (hymn singing, lack of silence) that simply do not practice water baptism or physical eucharist.  These evangelical Friends have lost much that is distinctively Quaker, including, in many cases, the peace witness.  In between are Conservative (Wilburite) Friends which attempt to hold onto the original Quaker ethos, but which are very tiny in number.

All this unhealed division has affected Quaker theology and scholarship:  Liberal Quakers often dismiss theology altogether and Evangelical Friends are simply apologists for the creed known as the Richmond (IN) Declaration.  All this is distressing to this outsider who believes that without a vibrant Friends’ testimony, the wider Body of Christ will be the poorer.

George Fox’s Journal is very influential on my devotional life as is John Woolman’s Journal.  I admire the deep abolitionist witness of the Grimke sisters and Lucretia Mott.  Among modern Quakers, my spiritual life has been enlivened by the late Thomas R. Kelly, and the late Douglas V. Steere.

Bayard Rustin, an African-American Quaker who played a tremendous role in the Civil Rights movement was behind the scenes for much of the movement because he was gay.  Rustin had flaws, but I find his witness compelling.

I find the theological writings of Chuck Fager (peace activist and editor of Quaker Theology), to be helpful in many cases, along with the different emphases of co-editor, Ann K. Riggs, (who directs the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA).  I am just discovering the theological emphases of Rachel Muers, Douglas Gwyn, and Stephen W. Angell, along with the New Testament studies of former Baptist-turned-Friend, Michael W. Newheart.


October 15, 2009 Posted by | ecumenism, theology, tradition | 15 Comments

Brief Reflections on Patriotism and Christian Faith

As I write this, it is already 04 July 2009. It’s Independence Day, the anniversary of the day (04 July 1776) when American colonists declared their independence from the U.K. It’s the birthday of this republic, the United States of America, although our current form of government did not set until 1790.  Throughout this land on Sunday, churches will be filled with pastors giving sermons on freedom or on “God and country,” etc. Most of them will be pretty bad. Some of them will be positively idolatrous–reducing the God of all creation to a tribal deity that somehow cares more for this nation than others–a truly blasphemous idea.

Some preachers will do better. My brother-in-law, Rev. Bill Westmoreland, a Presbyterian minister in Cincinnatti, OH, will be preaching on the differences between freedom in Christ (e.g., Gal. 5) and the individualistic, consumerist versions of “freedom” that most of the nation will celebrate this weekend.

But let’s skip the idolatrous perversions.  What of patriotism itself? Can Christians be patriots?  Some would be highly skeptical of the idea.  The great Pascal said that patriotism as love of country is a great idea but why should my love stop at an artificial border? Good question, Blaise.  Others have noted that patriotism is the last refuge (or excuse) of the scoundrel. (I am reminded of the scene from the hilarious  play and film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas where a TX Sen. was caught at the brothel–and immediately claimed that he had been drugged and kidnapped and taken there against his will by his enemies–all because they KNEW he was the fiercest anti-Communist in the Senate. Yeah, right.) Huge evil has been done in the name of patriotism–by the patriots of many nations.  Can a Christian, who believes that the saints are called out from among all nations, really be a patriot?

I think so if we define “patriotism” differently than “nationalism” or “militarism.”  Love of one’s native land is natural,  like love of one’s family.  It doesn’t have to mean hatred or contempt for others’ nations anymore than quiet pride in one’s family means the hatred of other families.  The Apostle Paul, with dual citizenship,  both bragged on his heritage as a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and on his Roman citizenship–though he knew the shortcomings of both.  The Sanhedrin would eventually arrest Paul and turn him over to Rome–where tradition says he was martyred.  So, Paul had to have a critical love of country.  It could not be the kind of blind patriotism which ignores the faults of one’s nation. It had to  point out those faults and seek to correct them.

The Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to overthrow Hitler–which led to his arrest by the Gestapo and eventual execution by the Nazis.  Bonhoeffer was partially motivated by his ecumenical commitments to the church universal.  But I would contend that Bonhoeffer was a greater patriot than those “German Christians” who lavished praise on Hitler, flew Swastikas in their sanctuaries,  and supported the Third Reich’s agenda.

I would similarly claim that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.–who once called the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” to be a better patriot than the “God and country” Jerry Falwell types.  I would say that Rev. William Sloan Coffin, or Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J., who were leading resisters to the Vietnam War were also patriotic Americans–genuinely so.

A Christian patriotism must be an “eyes wide open” critical patriotism that is always calling for repentence and reform. Because Christians can never forget that no nation, no government, is anywhere close to the standards of the Rule of God. Our first loyalty is to that other “kingdom” (forgive the patriarchal language,  the political meaning comes through better) which is not from this world–but which will overthrow the Powers and Authorities  of this world.  We are loyal first to the “God Revolution,” and second to the global church (the scattered People of God) and third to the whole world, in and out of the church, as God’s beloved creation. Only after that, as a lesser loyalty, can we be lovers of our own nation and government.

Nationalists and jingoists, therefore, will always find Christians to be suspect. We will not appear patriotic enough for them.  Too bad.

On a more secular note, I link to this great forum on patriotism by the online version of The Nation.

July 4, 2009 Posted by | church-state separation, citizenship, ecumenism, politics, theology | Comments Off on Brief Reflections on Patriotism and Christian Faith

Debts to Other Christian Traditions

I post much on this blog about matters relating especially to Baptists, which is not surprising since this blog is dedicated to the intersection of theology, culture,  and politics–engaging especially in “religious  social criticism,”  and I am a Baptist.  As a member of the small Alliance of Baptists (newest member of the National Council of Churches), I am considered part of the “liberal” theological  wing of Baptist life. I guess that’s true although I am orthodox enough to be able to affirm all of The Apostles’ Creed and The Nicene Creed without fudging (but with several mental footnotes). (Having a traditional Baptist aversion to creeds as “tests of orthodoxy,” and preferring only confessions of faith as personal testimonies and group “guides to biblical and theological interpretation,” I DON’T usually recite these or any other creeds, but not from disagreement with the content.) I think my theology is reasonably classed as belonging at the intersection of the left end of the evangelical spectrum and the right end of the liberal spectrum. (In politics, the middle is bland, but I think the center is the most exciting and dynamic place in theology.)

So, I post quite a bit about Baptists–especially since I try to erase the distorted picture many have of Baptists because of the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Convention, which is large and loud,  but NOT an accurate reflection of the best of historic Baptist views.  Baptists arrived in the early 17th C. out of the interaction of English Puritan-Separatism (which produced the Congregationalists) with two different streams of Dutch Anabaptism. (The Waterlander Mennonites influenced the beginning of “General” or Arminian Baptists in 1609-1611, whereas Collegiant Mennonites and Menno’s book, The Foundation of Christian Doctrine, influenced the beginning of “Particular” or Calvinistic Baptists in 1638-1641.) I admit to drawing more heavily on the Anabaptist stream of Baptist life than the more Puritan stream and to have mixed relations to the later Revivalistic stream. This makes me a minority within  Baptist life, I suppose.

But in my desire to show a different face of Baptist identity than that seen by those who only know the fundamentalists and Southern Baptists, I wonder sometimes if this blog is seen as too parochial–or even anti-ecumenical.  I assure you, Gentle Readers, that I have great appreciation for the great strengths of many traditions in the Church Universal. I have learned from many non-Baptist Christians.  So, let me acknowledge many of those debts here.

  • My deep appreciation for the Eucharist (Communion, Lord’s Supper) has been heightened by Catholics–even though I don’t share the Catholic theological view of what happens in the eucharistic meal.  I also deeply appreciate the major outlines of Catholic Social Teaching.  Catholic peacemakers from St. Francis of Assissi to Dorothy Day to Dan Berrigan, S.J. and John Dear, S.J. are sisters and brothers who deeply enrich my spirit and challenge me greatly in my own  discipleship.  I also owe much to Catholic contemplatives and, on a more mundane level, several Catholic educational institutions have employed me to teach theology and philosophy when Baptists would not.
  • I did not encounter Orthodox Christianity until after seminary. The Orthodox sense of mysticism is greatly helpful to me and, although I do not see the Early Church Councils as infallible as they do, it has been the Orthodox who led me to discover the theological depths of the Patristic (and Matristic!) writers. I confess, however, that I still find the Orthodox theology of icons too similar to the statues of saints in Catholic and Anglican circles. Sorry, friends.
  • My debts to Mennonites are so huge that they could become a book.  I have often considered becoming a Mennonite, but think I  am called to keep representing the Anabaptist tradition within Baptist circles.  I greatly appreciate the biblical  scholarship (and high biblical  literacy among laity) of Mennonites as well as their strong sense of history. The emphases on costly discipleship (following Jesus,  not just worshipping Jesus), service, resistance to materialism while sharing goods, simplicity of living, nonviolence, peacemaking, and strong  church-state separation are all areas where I share the Mennonite view deeply. (I do think some Mennonites take church-state separation to mean an apolitical quietism instead of a prophetic challenge to political figures.)
  • I have a turbulent relationship with Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians. My early encounters with white Pentecostals were not pleasant, although Black Pentecostals and Black Baptists were human agents of God in my late teenaged conversion to Christ.  My later experiences with the Pentecostal and Charismatic pacifists have helped me reconsider. I still understand the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” to be a New Testament metaphor for salvation rather than a later experience that creates a higher class of Christians and I do not rank any spiritual gifts (much less tongues and healing) as higher than others. And if I am in Pentecostal/Charismatic worship services for too long, I experience emotional exhaustion (and deep headaches).  Nonetheless, there is a joy in the Spirit that other traditions too often need.  If I could find a way to marry contemplative spirituality and pentecostal/charismatic joy, I would. Each speaks to something real in me, though I cannot dwell in either as a permanent home.
  • I love Quaker pacifism,  mysticism, simplicity and service. I am afraid, however, that I believe too strongly in water baptism and the eucharist to ever become a Quaker.  And, while Quaker silence (listening prayer) deeply informs my private devotions, I want group singing and preaching for corporate worship (most of the time). People are bodies,  not just spirits, and need to worship God bodily, too–in baptism and communion and in hymn singing and preaching and Bible study.
  • I greatly appreciate the Reformed/Presbyterian focus on an educated ministry and in theological education within congregations, too.  Though I do not understand the sovereignty of God in a 5-point Calvinist, Synod of Dordt fashion, the great trust in God’s sovereignty, the theological appreciation of the great drama of salvation in both Testaments, and  much else is truly helpful.  The Reformed tradition is broad and while I count narrow forms of it to be harmful to living Christianity, I celebrate the broader Reformed tradition that includes Karl Barth, Johanna van-Wijk-Bos, Amy Plantinga Pauw, Allen Boesak, and many others.
  • I love Martin Luther’s passion, humility, and love of Christ.  I love the Lutheran Christocentrism and am a huge fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I do think that some forms of Lutheranism (and Luther himself) encouraged German anti-Semitism and I am no fan of Luther’s two kingdoms theory which turns the church into a blind servant of the state.  But Luther’s focus on a theology of the cross in opposition to a theology of glory and triumph was right on target–and needs to be recovered today.
  • Since I was raised in an evangelical United Methodist family (but was personally agnostic until my encounters with the Black Church), I have saved this until the last. I have departed from Wesley in many ways, but his  emphasis on free will (the voluntaristic response to  the offer of salvation) is still  with me–and is why I keep failing to become a universalist. (I’d really LIKE to believe all will be saved, but I can’t see how it can happen without God overriding the free will of human persons–a form of spiritual rape, imo.) It’s also why I agree with the writer of Hebrews that genuine apostasy is a real possibility. More positively,  I love Wesley’s emphasis on the heart and his placing of Biblical authority within  matrix that also includes reason, experience, and the wisdom of Christian tradition–though  none of these sources is infallible.  I don’t see sanctification as a “second work of grace” and am skeptical of “entire sanctification” or Christian moral perfection (even a “perfection in love”) prior to death and glorification. Nonetheless, the Methodist focus on sanctification,  rather than reducing salvation only to justification (as some versions of Lutheranism do) is probably one of the impulses which make me a social critic and would-be reformer. (It probably also led me to the Anabaptist emphasis on active discipleship.)

I probably owe far more, to far more Christian traditions,  than  I have here acknowledged–or even recognize. This is surely a drop in the bucket.  For example, I forgot to mention that I think the Disciples are right in celebrating communion with every church service and the foot washing and Love Feasts of the Church of the Brethren are deeply in line with my view of NT Christianity ( and very moving, too). Is my theology coherent or just a hodge-podge collection? I hope the former, but I am glad that I am not a systematic theologian! I do think that what I have learned from other traditions fits best within the overall  Baptist shape of my Christian faith.  But I did not want my frequent postings on Baptist matters seem anti-ecumenical. 

Nonetheless, let me conclude by dissenting  from those who, whether or not in the name of “emerging” Christianity (a  movement so vaguely defined that I am never sure whether or not I like it!),  want to get beyond all particular Christian traditions.  Denominations, of course, are human institutions, and fallible.  But theological traditions and families have usually preserved vital aspects of the  gospel that are missed or downplayed by other traditions.  Generic forms of Christianity, it seems to me, do not end up recovering the fullness of the Gospel (whatever their intent), but in  losing ALL those vital elements preserved in various Christian traditions.  The scandal of the divided Church is not that we come in different traditions, but that we have so often been willing to deny that the others ARE Christian–at many times in history even being willing to shed blood over which was the “real Church.”

I love being in ecumenical meetings with people from other parts of the Body of Christ.  But I want the Catholics I meet to be authentic Catholics, the Presbyterians genuinely Reformed, etc.  We should  sing in harmony, not simple unity.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, Christianity, ecumenism | 9 Comments

Job Opening: General Secretary of the National Council of Churches

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (commonly called the “National Council of Churches” or NCC) has begun a nationwide search for a new General Secretary to replace retiring Gen. Sec., Rev. Robert “Bob” Edgar, a United Methodist minister and former U.S. Representative from eastern Pennsylania (1975-1987) who has been elected president of Common Cause, the citizens’ advocacy group.  Although NCC Presidents serve 2 year terms, the General Secretary is the head of the day-to-day workings of this ecumenical organization representing 35 different Christian communions or denominations, both Protestant and Eastern Orthodox.

To see the qualifications for the post, nominate someone, or apply yourself, click here.  To see the member denominations of the NCC, click here.  To read the NCC’s statement of faith, which must be thoroughly Christian yet broad enough to be ecumenically inclusive, click here

June 21, 2007 Posted by | ecumenism | 1 Comment

National Council of Churches’ Head urges Baptists to Unite Around Teachings of Jesus

NCC Head Urges Christian Unity Around Teachings of Jesus
Bob Allen06-23-06
The head of America’s leading ecumenical group said Christians can learn to live together around values that Jesus taught: peace, poverty, respect for Planet Earth, people’s rights and commitment to pluralism.
“We are the leaders we have been waiting for,” Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, challenged more than 400 moderate Baptists Thursday at a luncheon celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Edgar, a Methodist minister and former U.S. Congressman, said God is calling all Christians “in this moment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.” Studying the Scripture, he said, “I find there are five directions God is calling us to walk with Jesus in:”

–Peace. “We must engage in a relentless pursuit of peace, seeking reconciliation within families, communities, nations and the world of nations, reaching across boundaries that divide, building bridges instead of walls,” he said. “Whether in Sudan or in Iraq or in a neighborhood gripped by crime or violence, Jesus would have us be peace-makers, not just peace-lovers.”

–Poverty. “We are challenged by the life of Jesus, who gave himself for the poor and outcast, the despised and rejected,” Edgar said. “We must take concrete actions that reduce poverty in our own time and place, anchored in Jesus’ passionate concern for ‘the least of these.’ This challenge must not be confined to personal generosity, but community action, and national policy–going to the root of the problem, finding solutions that work and that last.”

–Planet Earth. “The biblical Christian is also called by the Scriptures to exercise reverential stewardship of this God-given planet, rooted in the earliest age of mankind, beginning in Eden,” he said. “We must fight the efforts of many to pillage and pollute, to waste and destroy the natural environment on which life itself depends. The wise management of the finite resources of the earth is a God-given mandate that the church is accountable to fulfill.”

–People’s rights. “The person who would be Jesus’ disciple will be found standing in strong defense of people’s rights, believing that such dehumanizing acts as racial or gender discrimination, torture, invasion of privacy are an affront to the will of God for his creation,” Edgar said. “The church should be the first line of protection for the disadvantaged, the powerless, the overlooked who have no other advocate but Christ and his followers.”

–Pluralism. “We who would claim the name of Christ must express his hospitality in the face of the whirlwind of cultures, languages, races, values and dreams that our world presents us in the form of accelerating pluralism in every community where we serve,” Edgar said. “Jesus found kinship with those his own religious hierarchy condemned, those his culture rejected, those his own heritage devalued. Jesus saw only God’s priceless creative will and boundless love in the faces of the Samaritan, the stranger, the Other. A God who would find joy in populating the world with such extravagant diversity certainly must find grief in our rejection of this banquet feast.”

Edgar said at the NCC, “We’re trying to address fear, fundamentalism and Fox television.”

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s member faith groups–from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches–include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

Noting an earlier remark that Baptists sometimes have had trouble with the National Council of Churches, Edgar said, “You might be interested to know we’ve got lots of Baptists” in the NCC, such as American Baptists and National Baptists.

“You all are Cooperative Baptists,” he said. “We’ve got some uncooperative Baptists. We’ve got Jimmy Carter Baptists.”

“What we do have in common, whether we’re inside of a partnership or organization or outside, is Jesus Christ.”

Edgar, a former pastor, six-term member of the House of Representatives and president of a theological school, was keynote speaker for the luncheon honoring 15 years of work by the Baptist Center for Ethics and its executive director, Robert Parham.

Edgar recognized Parham “for all the work he does, for his clarity, his voice and the way he helps us to understand what Christ is calling us to do in this time.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

This happened at the BCE luncheon at this year’s annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), the larger and arguably more “mainstream” or centrist of the Baptist groups which broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention when it was overtaken by fundamentalism. I belong to a church that is part of the Alliance of Baptists, the smaller, and more progressive or liberal of the two breakaway groups. During the same time period that the CBF worked to secure membership in the Baptist World Alliance (the international fellowship of Baptist denominations), the Alliance of Baptists forged partnerships with the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ and became the newest member denomination of the National Council of Churches.
My congregation, Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty (see link at side of this blog to the “Life at Jeff Street” blog), had tried to belong to both the Alliance and the CBF. But when the CBF decided in 2000 that no gays or lesbians could serve on CBF staff or be CBF missionaries, we withdrew since we welcome LGBT persons as equals. I have a tendency to view the CBF as good people but not prophetic enough–and not very ecumenical.
So, I find it a good sign that Bob Edgar was invited to the BCE luncheon at the CBF. It would have been even more impressive had this one-time Congressman and United Methodist minister been invited to give a keynote at the CBF. I wonder if CBF is open to receiving his message–his very Sermon on the Mount kind of message. I hope so. If a United Methodist and head of the NCC helps the CBF get in touch with the Anabaptist radicalism of Baptist roots it would show that God has a sense of humor! May it even be so. MLW-W

June 25, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, Christianity, ecumenism, Jesus | Comments Off on National Council of Churches’ Head urges Baptists to Unite Around Teachings of Jesus