American Baptist

#MissionSummit2015

By Rev. Mindi

That’s an awfully a long hashtag. American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in using social media effectively.

American Baptist Churches, USA, we still have a long way to go in including our marginalized folks.

However, there was progress made at our biennial gathering in Kansas City last weekend. Besides more people tweeting this time, three out of the four general worship service preachers mentioned inclusion of LGBTQ folks. The first praised the SCOTUS ruling as a just and right ruling. The second said for far too long we have pushed LGBTQ folks out. The third said “If you have a problem with someone’s sexual orientation, go talk to Jesus.”

I know it made some people uncomfortable. I saw the walkouts. But I also recall sitting in far too many American Baptist biennial meetings and walking out with my lesbian and gay, bisexual and transgender friends as they were told, from the pulpit, that they were an abomination, full of sin and bound for hell. I have walked out to comfort so many with tears from the pain and violence of exclusion. So for those who felt they had to walk out, I didn’t have much sympathy. As another friend said, “For now, we get to stay.”

For now.

We still have a long way to go. As Baptists, we believe in Soul Freedom, and that means that I cannot tell you what to believe, and you cannot tell me what to believe. It means that you and your church are free to determine your theology and your stances on issues, and me and my church are free to determine our theology and stances. That is how it should be. And at times it may be uncomfortable when we express our Soul Freedom in ways that bump up against each other.

But will this progress continue? Will the ending of exclusion actually happen? Will our LGBTQ friends feel safe in attending a Biennial gathering without worrying about the threat of vitriol from the pulpit?

We still have a long way to go. We claimed #BlackLivesMatter from the pulpit but have yet to come out with a unified voice to work on racism within our own congregations and communities. Many of us signed a statement pledging to work on anti-racism but met resistance from some who felt it didn’t do anything. Thank goodness our outgoing President viewed this as an opportunity and read the letter from the pulpit, and we can continue the work long beyond our Mission Summit. You can read the Epistle of Metanoia from the 2015 Mission Summit here.

We still have a long way to go. We have fabulous young preachers who shared their gifts in the Festival of Young Preachers and young seminarians getting ready to enter the search process, but so many churches are cutting back salaries and opportunities. There are pastors retiring but then staying on or taking another church in their retirement instead of encouraging congregations to take the opportunity to call a young pastor. And as I’ve shared before, our definition of “young” sometimes stretches well into middle-ages, leaving the truly young pastors still looking for a call.

We have made progress. I believe it. I left with a lot of hope for our future and actual excitement about attending our next Biennial “Mission Summit” Gathering as American Baptists. But until we call younger pastors, have younger leadership represented at our national gatherings and in our national leadership, and work to include those who have been pushed to the margins because it makes some of us uncomfortable, we still have a long way to go.

Musings on the American Baptist Mission Summit

By Rev. Mindi 

For those of you not familiar with the American Baptist Churches, USA, you can go to our website www.abc-usa.org.  We meet for biennial gatherings much like the Disciples of Christ meet for General Assembly and the United Church of Christ meet for General Synod.  Two years ago, at our Biennial Meeting in Puerto Rico (I was unfortunately unable to attend), a new structure and bylaws were passed for our denomination. As a result, our Biennial gathering this year changed to a Mission Summit format. What that means is that there was a lot less formal business and more opportunity for conversation.

Of course, these are just my views, but here they are: I enjoyed the Mission Summit format. We were given a list of over thirty topics to choose from and got to go to the table of our topic of choice and meet others interested in the same topic (some topics had two or three tables—and each table had a facilitator). There were three rooms of conversations, under the categories of Our Future, Our Leaders, and Our Witness. We had some basic questions to get us started in the conversation, and after an hour or so, we got back together as a larger group in our category and each table shared a major insight/learning. We had two more opportunities for this, in which we could stay with the same subject and go deeper, or we could switch topics. I met new people, had good conversations, and even took away some ideas for my congregation. Practical stuff.

What I missed: the fact that our formal business session was fifteen minutes, to accept the nominations as slated. We have done away with our old Statements of Concern process to create new Public Witness Statements (which there were none presented at this gathering).  The Resolution and Policy Statements of old are gone. Old resolutions can be amended or rescinded through a process, but no new ones can be created under the new bylaws. For some, this perhaps is a victory—the Statements of Concern process, which I witnessed firsthand at the Denver Biennial in 2005, was a painful and abusive process by some churches wanting to impose their views on homosexuality as a sin onto others.  The resolution process was also abused. But now, we no longer make any resolutions.  The new process for the Public Witness Statements is still unknown and relatively untested (a few regions have passed Public Witness Statements, but only a few, and it being so new, there were none for this gathering).

Who are we? What are we doing? We are answering the question well within our gathering. We are a diverse body in worship, fellowship and mission. I enjoyed the worship services, the beauty of music from around the world, dynamic speakers and positive messages. I enjoyed meeting new people and reconnecting with my Baptist roots. But outside of our gathering—who knows us? Who knows who we are and what we are doing, what we believe and what we say about ourselves?  And as one of the few Tweeters during the entire gathering, I was disappointed with the denominational use of social media, that barely existed before the Mission Summit and was gone as soon as it was finished (by the way, the topic I chose for the Mission Conversations was Social Media).

I look forward to attending the next Mission Summit, I really do. But I hope that we American Baptists will find our voice again, will be willing to risk and to state what we believe in, what we hold dear—even if others do not feel the same way, even if it is controversial. I hope that we haven’t made the decision to simply avoid conflict by not saying anything at all.