One of the key things I have learned as a life coach is that coaching is not counseling. Counseling (or therapy) helps us to deal with the past. In therapy, we examine our hurts, grief experiences, and even traumas in order to learn from them and then to construct a life that works for us. Therapy is long, hard work, but we can never move forward as healthy human beings until we do it. Once we have dealt with our past, we can begin to pursue the path to a productive future.
Every five years, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seems to need a therapy session to deal with its past. This usually happens as part of a dinner meeting on Wednesday night prior to a General Assembly. We pull out our hurts, make fun of “those other Baptists” and (I suppose) come away feeling better about ourselves.
There are a lot of things about my childhood that were unpleasant, but I have moved past them and rarely think about them. Sometimes I even smile or laugh out loud when I think about them. They were important in shaping who I am, but I have dealt with them and moved on to create a reasonably productive life. Sometimes I wonder if Fellowship Baptists have been able to do the same.
At the Wednesday night Celebration at this year’s General Assembly, keynote speaker Molly Marshall modeled a healthy approach to past trauma. She owned it, acknowledged how it had affected her, and then moved on. Although she spent some time sharing her own painful experiences not only of rejection at Southern seminary but of her calling to ministry, she turned quickly to the future and challenged us to seek the leadership of the Spirit and respond faithfully to that divine influence.
We all have painful stories that come out of the conflict that splintered Baptists in the South. I can share some of my own if you have an hour or so. One of the redeeming outcomes of that difficult time for me was finding the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I have supported its work for 20 years, served the Fellowship as a state coordinator, advocated for CBF in my church (when it cost something to do that), and return to General Assembly year after year because my friends are there and I embrace what God is doing through the Fellowship.
To be blunt, my favorite years at General Assembly have been those when the Southern Baptist Convention and the “great schism” are never mentioned and we celebrate what God is leading us as Fellowship Baptists to do. We heard a great deal to celebrate at this meeting—the work of CBF field personnel and cooperating churches to “minister to the least of these,” the impact that our affiliated theological schools make in the lives of those preparing for ministry, and the creative engagement of partners like the Baptist Center for Ethics, Baptist Women in Ministry, and the Baptist Joint Committee with issues of our day. These are all positive Kingdom of God initiatives that bless the served, the servants, and the world.
We are involved in some good things, and we ought (with some humility) to feel good about ourselves. We are beyond being defined by who we are not. We are stating very clearly who we are.
If we want to consider history, let’s think about the generation of young adults who came out of World War II. Men and women in the early 1940s went through the trauma of worldwide war at home and abroad. This was a time of sacrifice, deprivation, and loss. But they came out of that searing experience to build not only a thriving society in this country but also to rebuild the world. They dealt with the bad years of the war in a number of ways, but most were able to put it behind them and invest in the future and in their children. They set a good example for us as we look to the opportunities God provides to us in these days. We are products of our past, but we are not captives to it.