by Rev. Laura Barclay
Recently, I attended the 20th annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Tampa and stayed in a hotel which was full of two groups: CBF Baptists and participants in a worldwide ballroom dancing championship. Elevator rides bordered on the comedic: reserved Baptists in their polos and khakis standing shoulder to shoulder with dancers wearing long, feathery dresses and elaborate headpieces who kissed one another on the cheek and excitedly recounted their performances. The contrast between the two groups could not have been more drastic. However, members of these two groups mingled jovially in the lobby, and some Baptists even made it to a few of their competitions.
I was fortunate enough to overhear one conversation in the lobby, as a female dancer recounted a conversation with a CBF minister to her male dance partner:
“…and he said this group was a different kind of Baptist. He said that this group was more accepting and open and not like what I’d heard before with all that fire and brimstone. I told him I was spiritual but not religious. And then he shared his fascination with Christian mystics. I didn’t even know there were any! And he tells me that his church has done studies on the history of mystics and spirituality. I never heard of Baptists being into spirituality! And then, do you know what he told me? He said that he had two female ministers on staff, and one of them was a lesbian. Can you believe it? This kind of church would accept people like you and me! So he gave me his church’s website and contact information so I could access their resources on spirituality and learn more about them. I think I’m going to check it out and give him a call…”
This woman was beginning to overcome past rejection from interactions with unhealthy churches to the point where she could speak redemptively about the witness of this unnamed CBF minister. Sometimes, I struggle with calling myself a Baptist. That name has a lot of baggage that conjures up images of exclusion. In the last few years of working with CBF of North Carolina, I’ve been able to find pride in a Baptist identity that comes from engaging with more moderate and progressive churches who adhere to founding Baptist principles like soul freedom, the separation of church and state, and the autonomy of the local church. For me, this conversation between two dancers evoked not only a sense of pride in claiming the name “Baptist,” but also a feeling of immense hope for the next chapter of CBF life. May the next twenty years be filled with conversations of welcome, hope, and mission that exhibit the love of Christ being extended to all people.