Bruce Tomaso at the Dallas Morning News religion blog pointed the way to a fantastic Associated Press article by Rachel Zoll. I've written before about my frustration with the way the mainstream media know so little about religion that they lump all Lutherans together, without realizing the very significant theological differences between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the more confessional Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Both are relatively large church bodies and there are a number of smaller Lutheran groups as well -- yet many reporters just lump us all together. The ELCA is much more political (and of the more liberal stripe), so it gets more of the press.
I had dinner once with a fellow "pastor's kid" whose father was a clergyman of the American Baptist Church. She expressed the same frustration but from the opposite perspective. She and her father are quite liberal theologically and politically -- but the mainstream media tend to lump all Baptists under the more conservative umbrella.
Zoll wrote a great story about these "other" Baptists, as she calls them. Here's how it begins:
They're America's other Baptists -- the ones who appoint women pastors, work with theological liberals and line up more closely with President Carter than with President George W. Bush.
Over the last 25 years, they have watched with growing concern as their conservative Southern Baptist brethren came to define the religious tradition for the general public.
Now, these other Baptists, who are spread among many different denominations, are slowly pooling resources on humanitarian work and evangelism, hoping they can have a bigger impact.
On Friday in Washington, two of the larger groups -- the American Baptist Churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship -- are worshipping together for the first time. They are commissioning two missionary couples who will represent both groups, and are organizing a national Islamic-Baptist dialogue to improve relations with Muslims.
"It is an effort to celebrate our common heritages as Baptist Christians and to affirm our commitment to work together more collaboratively," said the Rev. Daniel Vestal, national coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. "The Baptist witness is much richer and more nuanced than is characterized so often in the public square now."
The introduction to the joint meeting of the ABC and CBF is great. Zoll goes on to describe how the "other" Baptists are organizing and what they hope to accomplish. I think the Carter reference may be unfair, but he has been a prominent non-Southern Baptist in recent years. With an economy of words she describes the independence of many Baptist congregations, something little understood by many reporters. She also points out the diversity of religious and political views among the groups involved:
The religious leaders who endorsed the covenant say their churches span a wide range of beliefs on issues both theological and political, and have diverse styles of worship. Many oppose abortion and gay marriage, but believe that the Bible's social justice teachings are just as important. The unity meetings also aim to bridge the divide between historically African-American and white Baptists.
It's just nice to see a story provide some context and information about divisions among those who claim the title Baptist.