By Laura Rector
Divorce hurts children. My grandparents’ divorce still hurts their children and their grandchildren to this day — even though both have been dead for years. Certainly, the pain has lessened in time, but the wound is still there, for many of us just below the surface.
When it comes to Baptist life, I often feel like a child of a really bad divorce — stretched between spiritual parents who, although they may have separated over crucial differences, still make me feel pulled apart. It seems impossible for them to get along, and they describe one another in ways that make me wonder how well either really knew the other in the first place.
If my father is the Southern Baptist Convention, then my mother is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. If I praise Dad, then I’m berated by Mom. If I express disagreement with Mom, then I’ll be patted on the back by Dad. The mutually exchanged venom only increases my feelings of alienation from both, even as so much of my identity is intertwined in both.
Like many children of divorce, I had to choose where to live, and because of my calling as a woman in ministry, I chose Mom. That doesn’t mean I want to see Dad berated or even that I want to be affirmed for that choice. I want Mom to love me for me, not because I chose her over Dad.
I want the freedom to disagree with both parents, but I somehow hate it when they so strongly disagree with one another. Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine either side saying anything positive about the other. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent time with both, long after they stopped sharing a home, and found loving people in both sides of my estranged family.
This past year the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship said it wanted to stop being known just as a reactive movement to the SBC. I believe Jesus wants our Baptist family to do more than that.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44, NIV, 1984). Some late manuscripts even clarify verse 44 further for us with the words, “Do good to those who hate you.”
Jesus didn’t just say, “Stop reacting.” He also didn’t say, “You have to agree with your enemies.” He didn’t even say, “You have to like everything they did, do, or will do.” He said to pray for them and to love them.
If those late manuscripts are any indication, the early church interpreted that as much more than having a warm, fuzzy feeling. “Stop reacting” is only the first step in love’s journey. This absence of reaction needs to be filled in with positive actions.
I wonder, dear Baptist family, what we could do to live out the kind of love Jesus was talking about. How do we love our fellow Baptists? Could we at start by praying for them?
Could we identify the fabulous things we have in common, like the desire to know Jesus and make him known, concern for victims of trafficking, care for AIDS/HIV orphans, and clean water for the world’s poor?
After years of bickering, could we lay aside our attitudes that say, “We’re better, because at least we don’t do this or that” and find something to affirm and love in the other half of our disrupted family?
Many, if not most, might well, say, “But, they did (fill in the blank).” That’s Jesus’ point. We love them despite our differences, not because all the differences are smoothed away. As Jesus said in verse 46 of the same passage, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”
One day, we will all bow to the Lamb of God together. Without minimizing the very real differences that the groups have with one another, this child of the Great Baptist Divorce wishes that at least some folks on both sides would get an early start.