This year, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship took its general assembly to Birmingham where it offered less Baptist baloney and more Baptist babies.
Before you type and toss me in the fridge of food snobs, let me confess that I never ate baloney as a child. Instead of bologna sausages, my family ate Vienna sausages. (They’re not that bad once you get past the jelly juice oozing on top.) My brothers and I would often slice the wieners in half, place them on white bread – you know, the kind that always sticks to the roof of your mouth – and then seal the sandwich with Whataburger ketchup.
Today, I’m thankful my biological family has moved beyond mystery meat in a can. I’m even more grateful that many in my CBF family is moving beyond the Baptist baloney.
“This is the Baptist work I’m proud to be a part of, work that lays foundations for further generations to build upon.”
Yes, our Baptist bread might still be white like the majority of the CBF, but I believe many of us are craving something more substantial for our witness in the world. Last week in Birmingham I found a number of like-minded folks standing in the hallways of the Sheraton hotel, sitting in the pews of 16th Street Baptist Church and stretching in the back of evening worship services. We were searching, starving for deeper conversations about race, sexuality and what on earth God is doing on the ground level in local churches.
There are many moderate Baptists weary of the same old baloney sandwiches passed out at annual conventions in an effort to please everyone but that in reality only perpetuate a bland and fear-based Baptist culture. The nutritional makeup of these gatherings normally consists of 10 percent awkward side hugs, 20 percent irrelevant breakout sessions, 30 percent over-priced, low-value luncheons and 40 percent whitewashed worship services.
However, over the past few years of attending CBF’s general assembly, I’ve noticed a decrease of Baptist baloney and an increase of Baptist babies.
In all reality, I’m not sure the awkward hugs will ever end. On the first day of the assembly, I found myself in the hotel lobby side hugging a tall, white man with the disposition of Tom Hanks whom I believed to be CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley. The man froze mid-hug and informed me his name was Joe and he worked for the Westin.
All hugging aside, this year’s event featured a buffet of provocative breakout sessions on topics such as sexual clergy misconduct, racism in the white church, LGBTQ inclusion and one session with a Spanish title I had to google. Undoubtedly, there were assembly attendees who found these breakout sessions less than palatable since they offered flavors of our fellowship some would prefer never to digest. And yet, we all still showed up at the same conference, claiming the same tribe, hungry for unity that never spoon-feeds conformity.
“CBF has made great strides. However, with the help of my non-white Baptist brothers and sisters, I am also aware that we still have work to do.”
The meals may have offered overpriced plates of pork you had to cut with a butter knife and chicken dishes accompanied by one lone carrot, but the true soul food was served through high nutrition presentations. The Emmanuel McCall Trailblazer dinner led by Kasey Jones, CBF’s associate coordinator of strategic operations and outreach, plated passionately the vital role of the church in the work of racial reconciliation. The New Baptist Covenant luncheon, led by Hannah McMahan King and her new Co-Executive Coordinator Aidsand Wright-Riggins, continued serving dishes of encouragement to determined leaders of congregational partners intent on redeeming racism in their communities. The Baptist Joint Committee dealt a delicious dessert with a new logo and free t-shirts for everyone stuffed to the brim by the no-baloney main course, a challenging presentation by writer and speaker Jonathan Merritt.
During one of the luncheons, I glanced over at a nearby table and saw a woman breastfeeding her baby. I took a modest bite of my chocolate cake, trying to resist devouring it like I did my one carrot. The humidity of Birmingham and the walk earlier to 16th Street Baptist Church had made me feel bloated as well as self-conscious about my expanding ankles; hence the conservative approach to my cake. Then I suddenly become aware of all the babies in the room, which wasn’t terribly helpful as a young female procrastinating the decision on reproducing. Pushing my pregnant thoughts aside, I looked around at the beauty of all the Baptist babies in attendance.
Our “denomi-network” may not be busting at the seams like my waistline, but at least we can hear the cries of the next generation being raised by Baptists who are willing to toss out the baloney in exchange for better, more enriching work, including racial justice and reconciliation.
CBF could have easily dismissed the historical significance of being in Birmingham on Juneteenth, but there was no Baptist baloney on June 19, 2019, at 16th Street Baptist Church – the very place where four little black girls were murdered by white supremacists in 1963. Seminars and services were held at this historic church for both Baptist Women in Ministry and the Angela Project, a three-year movement in my community of Louisville commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first African slave ship to arrive on American soil.
This is the Baptist work I’m proud to be a part of, work that lays foundations for further generations to build upon.
“It seems as though I have my own baloney to work out.”
The next generation was seen cradled in the arms of parents at worship services, breakout session and auxiliary events where a variety of non-white Baptist voices were heard. Diverse leaders from all branches of our Baptist fellowship spoke, sang, read, prayed and preached.
CBF has made great strides in recent years. However, with the help of my non-white Baptist brothers and sisters, I am also aware that we still have work to do. My colleague and friend, John Harris, offered a helpful critique on Facebook, calling out the baloney residue still lingering in CBF life.
While I’ve enjoyed attending and participating in worship, fellowship, and the dialogue that has taken place these 3 days at General Assembly (CBF); as well as the hopes of doing the work of racial justice, I struggle with the fact that both sermons and the sermonettes (testimonies) were delivered by white men and women. NOW, I’m sure that in a place like Birmingham, AL, you can find a certifiable, qualified, and bona fide negro Baptist preacher!
As one of the preachers giving testimony in worship, I realize I could have said no to the invitation in order for another preacher who wasn’t white like me to fill the power position of proclaiming a word of truth. It seems as though I have my own baloney to work out.
Like me, you may not be contributing anytime soon to the Baptist baby initiative. However, we all can do the hard work of removing the bland, Baptist baloney, the good ole boy, status quo work that avoids conservations that matter, hinders churches from doing ministries that change lives and keeps us all eating the same non-nutritional, white bread sandwiches.