It amazes me how many people I have talked to can trace their calling back to one particular event, such as a revival, youth camp, etc. Well, for me, that event was the CBF General Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina in June of 2003. Other than at my home church, Bayshore Baptist, I had always felt like I was nearly alone in some of my beliefs. My strong support of women in ministry, separation of church and state, and support of the democratic party are just a few of the issues being challenged by the "new" Southern Baptist Convention. (The fundamentalist takeover of the SBC is deserving of several posts in itself, and I will get to that sometime in the future.) In Charlotte, I found myself surrounded by either people or agreed with me, or people who could at least agree to disagree.
There are two particular events at CBF that were life-changing. The first was the church leadership seminar which was being led by Brian Mclaren. Brian Mclaren has become an expert on postmodern Christianity. (If you want to read about this, his books A New Kind of Christian and The Story We Find Ourselves In are excellent places to start.) I attended this conference with an older friend from church. After the seminar, all of us who attended realized that the younger generation views the world much differently than the older generation. Once both sides realized this, we were able to relate to each other much better. It was also kind of an ah-ha moment for me because I realized that there were other people who think the way I do. Postmodernism is another topic that is too lengthy to be discussed here, and I don't know that I understand it well enough to write about it yet. Before this seminar, I didn't even know what a postmodern was, much less that I was one, and that there were a lot of other people just like me, all of whom were dealing with many of the same issues I am.
The second life-changing event occurred only a few hours later. Dr. Tony Campolo was the speaker at the worship service that evening. He hit all nearly all of the issues I think are important, and he agreed with me, and people in the audience were agreeing with him. All I could think of was, "WOW! This is really cool!" I really had a feeling of being "at home" with these people. It was an absolutely wonderful feeling. I realize that not everyone in the audience agreed with Dr. Campolo, but it appeared that the majority of the people agreed with him the majority of the time. What I really took away from this was this: it is possible to be a minister with views like mine and not have to hide those views because of the criticism that is bound to come from fundamentalists. There appeared to be a group of people out there who were able to, as our interim pastor Dr. Hardy Clemons put it, disagree agreeably.
The whole event has changed the way I look at my faith. I don't think are differences are something to be ashamed of or hidden; I think they are something to be proud of and proclaimed! Unlike the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, I see diversity as a strength, not a weakness. 1 Corinthians 13:9 says: For we know in part and we prophesy in part. Therefore, none of us has all of the answers, and the only way to get a fuller picture of the character of God and discern his will for us as individuals and collectively as a body of believers is to spend time in prayer and study together. Whenever several Baptists study together, disagreements are bound to occur. The goal should be, as my former interim pastor Hardy Clemons put it, to disagree agreeably. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with agreeing to disagree, and the chances are that neither side is completely right nor completely wrong.
In the next post, I will write about what I did with what I learned once I returned home.