“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.
Like others who identify with the Cooperative Baptist movement, I have been reading both the report of the Illumination Project and responses on social media. My only conclusion so far is that we don’t all agree on this decision. I have friends who express widely divergent and opposing opinions, so I continue to reflect on the implications of the decision, pray about it, and even look at scripture like the passage above.
Of course, Jesus was not trying to start an organization. If anything, what he was creating was a very messy, chaotic organism which was to be led by the Spirit of God. The two statements above, however, might be identified as the core values of the Jesus movement: Love God and love your neighbor. These are both very relational statements provided in a cruciform structure--one dealing with our vertical relationship with God and one dealing with our horizontal relationships with other human beings.
In like manner, my experience with CBF has always been built on relationships. While I served as ..coordinator of the Tennessee CBF, our most significant endeavors were based on strong relationships.
|Wayne Smith, director of|
We worked with Wayne Smith to support Samaritan Ministry, an outreach to HIV/AIDS victims and their families in Knoxville. We partnered with Emily and Eliot Roberts as they established a new church ministry, Neverfail Community Church, on the Cumberland Plateau, an area where meth production and addiction continue at one of the highest rates in the US. We came alongside Martha and Chuck Strong to assist with a new church start in Olive Branch, MS, a suburb of Memphis. The door opened for a relationship with Central Baptist Theological Seminary to offer theological education to students through a satellite in Murfreesboro as a result of personal contacts with friends in Kansas City.
All of these ministries were born out of relationships characterized by trust, respect, persistence, and love. Their partnership honored us because of what they were doing and by giving us, as Tennessee CBF, an opportunity to be a part as friends and coworkers.
Wayne Smith has reminded me a couple of times about a conversation we had while establishing the Samaritan Ministry partnership. Wayne remembers saying to me, “There’s one question you haven’t asked me.” Supposedly I replied, “What’s that?” He said, “You haven’t asked me my stand on homosexuality.” My response: “Is that important?” We trusted Wayne to do the right thing and he did.
The partnerships we established were based on relationship. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you love and trust the people with whom you work. They make you a better person by expanding your vision, affirming your gifts, and sharing their lives.
At the CBF General Assembly last year in Atlanta, Brian McLaren suggested that the Fellowship and its churches should be saying to potential adherents, “If you become part of this community, we will help you become a more loving version of yourself.” In other words, we will enter into a relationship that will help you become what God wants you to be. I would add that we will be blessed in that partnership as well.
In our present context, perhaps it is asking too much to expect a “denomi-network” to do the work on relationships and inclusivity that we should do in our churches. Vital relationships grow in community at the local level where we live, love, and struggle together. No one else can do that work for us. But I do have to ask the question right now, “Will being part of the community called the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship help me to become a more loving version of myself?”
I haven’t answered that question yet. What do you think?