The retro-innovative Georgia Baptist Convention voted at its Nov. 15-16 to disfellowship Druid Hills Baptist Church “because its co-pastor is a woman.” As expected and repeating the pattern of action taken last year against First Baptist Church Decatur.
Carey Charles, a deacon and fourth-generation member at Druid Hills, described the church’s goal to messengers as “first and foremost missional.”
“When Baptist churches are closing their doors inside the I-285 perimeter [the freeway that surrounds the central part of the Atlanta area] today at a historically rapid pace, and that [what was] once 166 Baptist churches are now down to a mere 39, we at Druid Hills Baptist have deliberately chosen to stay and bear a testimony as stated in our core values — to love God, to share Christ, to serve others and grow in faith,” Charles said.
“In staying, we recognize that we must ask tough questions, missional questions; not something that unifies only our church, but also that unifies our church in our neighborhood, city and world immediately surrounding us,” he said. “Therefore we chose the Walkers, both of whom have been recognized as partners in mission by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention for 12 years of service in the Philippines, who deeply share our passion for what is now a growing mission field inside Atlanta.”
That makes the action twice the opposite of progress. After the GBC executive committee recommended that change at its March 16 meeting, Shelia M. Poole of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote:
“It seems sad that they decided to go backwards in time,” said the 52-year-old Mimi Walker, a former missionary in the Philippines. “I’m not sure what the value is of trying to go back in time when women were held in subservience.”
This bit of time traveling is by in effect expelling a church whose innovation has been extraordinary. The church Web site explains:
Druid Hills Baptist Church (DHBC) was established in 1914 and since its inception has been a church oriented towards innovation and growth. DHBC enjoyed many firsts among Baptist churches in the south including the first vacation Bible School, the first church day camp and the first co-ed adult class. Through the years DHBC has continued to evolve to meet the needs of the community. It is now the last Baptist church in downtown Atlanta and is located in a very diverse neighborhood at the corner of Ponce and Highlands.
Inflexibility has a price.
Not just for the Georgia Baptist Convention. The SBC’s Batholic/Cathist inflexibility has led independent demographic analysis to forecast not only frustration of evangelism goals like those pursued by the Great Commission Resurgence , but also steady decline.
In 2000, Herb Hollinger retired from the helm of Baptist Press — the Southern Baptist Executive Committee public relations arm that masquerades as a legitimate news service. In a meeting shortly afterward, longtime editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message, Lynn Clayton, asked then-SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman what kind of person would be chosen to lead BP.
Without hesitation, Chapman responded: “Someone loyal to me and the conservative cause.” While he expanded on that response, there was no mention of competence or experience, just loyalty to those looking for help in carrying out their Fundamentalist agenda. Chapman found such a person in Will Hall. North Carolina will find one too.
Blame the victim is a hideous American practice, not exclusively a Southern Baptist sin — one at which Christa Brown fired back when Lora Wilson was maligned with Baker’s words in a recent blog comment.
The smear continues in part because the Southern Baptist institutions which are at fault have failed to acknowledge their responsibility. Christa writes:
To this day, no Baylor official has made any public expression of remorse. No one at First Baptist of Waco, a church that had two reports of Baker’s abuse, has expressed any sorrow about letting the man move on without consequence. No one at the Baptist General Convention of Texas has offered any explanation for how someone with so many abuse and assault reports could move so easily through its affiliated churches and organizations. And no one in Baptistland has made even the feeblest of effort to reach out to the many more who were likely wounded by “murdering minister” Matt Baker — the many who are probably still silent.
Christa wants to sing sleeping Southern Baptist Convention consciences awake to their neglect of trusting Baptist Children.
How should the Christian inaugural prayergivers speak their faith to our diverse national audience?
Jesuit priest Rev. Thomas J. Reese reminds us that:
Billy Graham did not mention Jesus in his inaugural prayers in 1989, 1993 or 1997. On the other hand, his son Franklin in 2001 ended his prayer with “We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Likewise, Kirbyjon Caldwell (Methodist) in 2001 ended his prayer with “We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ. Let all who agree say ‘amen.’”. Four years later, Pastor Caldwell softened it a bit but still kept Jesus: “respective of all faiths, I submit this prayer in the Name of Jesus.”
Denominational and social balance in prayerful participants has not, in the past, been an overarching concern. Writing for Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith, he goes on to explain that:
In fact, inaugurations did not start with a prayer until 1937. Perhaps the depression focused people’s minds on God. Roosevelt had a Protestant and Catholic minister pray. Truman added a Jewish Rabbi. Eisenhower added a Greek Orthodox bishop. Jimmy Carter cut it back to a Protestant and a Catholic. Ronald Reagan had only a Presbyterian for his first inauguration but by his second he had two Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton had Billy Graham, with Clinton adding another Baptist in 1997.
Sweeping inclusion was one of President-elect Barack Obama’s overarching campaign theme.
His approach to inaugural prayer and preaching appears to be steadfast in keeping that promise and, Reese’s account suggests, to set a new historic standard.
To honor that and respect the diverse audience, Reese says:
But in a public prayer outside a Christian institution, I think Christian ministers can and should pray to God without bringing in Jesus. This does not deny Jesus. It simply invites everyone in our pluralistic society to join our prayer to the fullest extent that they can. Would Jesus mind?
I don’t think so.
We who favor public prayer should be the first to acknowledge that a prayer at the inauguration will not magically save our nation, nor will the absence of a prayer damn us.
Surely, though, eloquent, thoughtful prayer can help unite us.