The very last Baptist congregation that I called home, on my road to the ancient church of the East, was Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., which hails itself as an "ecumenical church" in the "Baptist tradition." If you know anything about "moderate Baptists" in the Bible Belt, you know that Myers Park is as far left as one can go and still be in a church with Baptist in the name.
It's the kind of church with Episcopal-style doors on the pews, semi-Presbyterian hymnals in the pews, clergy in academic robes and absolutely no doctrinal absolutes, other than the freedom of the individual soul to make its peace with Whoever or Whatever is up there (maybe) in the Heavens. It's the kind of church that all but gave up on the Southern Baptist Convention, to halfway dance with the American Baptists, long before that was the kind of mini-trend that would make headlines.
In other words, I know a thing or two -- here's a confession -- about the "other Baptists" and what they believe and why they believe it.
The Divine Mrs. MZ recently noted a fine Associated Press report about these "other" Baptists, and I thought I would revisit this subject, because I am convinced that they could play a crucial role in the development of a more diverse religious left in the next few years. I mean, at the very least, we are going to get to see Bill Clinton -- a liberal Baptist's Baptist if there ever was one -- walking out of more churches holding his Bible. And Jimmy Carter is still making news, too.
However, this is tricky business. Are these other Baptists "evangelicals" in any sense of that vague word? What do they believe? Are they, in effect, merely oldline Protestants who like good preaching? Is there any unity over there? Well, The Dallas Morning News ran another report on these folks offered by Religion News Service. Here is part of this second report on the attempts to promote unity on the Baptist left.
Baptists from a range of fellowships and denominations came together for worship and rallies and to say -- at least symbolically -- that splits and divisions from the past will not prevent them from joining hands on issues such as missions and religious freedom. They often disagree with more conservative Southern Baptists, but they want people to know they are Baptist, too -- just a different kind.
... Now, Baptists who agree on issues such as reducing poverty and hunger and respecting religious diversity are seeking ways to actively find common ground.
And, at the end, we are told that American Baptists, Cooperative Baptists (that would be the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship piece of the Southern Baptist universe), Progressive Baptists and others have also
... affirmed their plans for a larger gathering planned for next January in Atlanta. With the encouragement of former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Baptists, there will be a "Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant." Predominantly white and historically African-American Baptist groups will emphasize their commitment to feeding the hungry, promoting peace, and caring for the sick and marginalized.
In other words, these Baptists are against poverty, in favor of religious diversity, pro-peace, etc. etc. This, of course, means that their Baptist sisters and brothers to the right are not all of these things. This may or may not be true, but there is no way that this is enough information about this new "moderate" coalition.
What about the major social issues that -- like it or not -- tend to cause divisions today? Would journalists dare write about the Southern Baptist Convention without mentioning what it believes on controversial issues, without covering its internal divisions?
So, in order to be better informed, try this. Do a Google search for the terms "American Baptists" and, oh, "homosexuality." Or check out the Rainbow Baptists. Poke around, because there are interesting stories out there on the Baptist left. Lots of them.
In other words, these "other" Baptists are a complex and, at times, divided bunch. They deserve serious coverage -- which means listening to their allies and their critics. This particular story barely scratched the surface.
UPDATE: Here is some timely additional information from RNS editor Kevin Eckstrom, writing in with a comment:
To answer one of your points, that the RNS article did not address that the "other baptists" are a "divided bunch," it's important to note that the Dallas Morning News article you cited left out two paragraphs from the bottom of the original RNS story. From the original RNS feed:
Walt White, a member of the American Baptist Churches' global consultants team, said the worship service gave a refreshing perspective on Baptists who even argue among themselves over abortion, homosexuality and how much to work with non-Baptist groups.
"So often recently, Baptists have been known for what they're against," he said. "I would much rather we be known for what we're for than for what we're against."