October 26, 2018
New Baptist Covenant – Reflection
October 25, 2018 – Rev. Anne J. Scalfaro
Last week, I joined other Baptist clergy and leaders in Atlanta for the celebratory and challenging summit, Journey to Justice: Celebrating 10 years of New Baptist Covenant.
First, a bit of history: In 2007, saddened by the persistent racial and theological divisions between Baptist communities and in the United States, President Jimmy Carter brought together more than 30 Baptist organizations and from this effort, a ministry of action named the New Baptist Covenant was born, uniting Baptists and renewing our pursuit of unity and justice on the local and national scale: “The New Baptist Covenant creates vibrant, inclusive Baptistcommunities, building bridges in places previously marked by division. We are called by God to champion the weak and oppressed, honor the diverse workings of the Holy Spirit and to share the love of Christ. Our work is rooted in the words of Jesus Christ found in Luke 4:18-19.”
This summer NBC Executive Director Hannah McMahan reached out Rev. Eugene Downing of New Hope Baptist and myself to invite us to attend this 2018 summit together. She had heard through a mutual colleague that our churches were already in relationship with one another and that we were seeking to do the important work of relationship building and working for racial justice in Denver. This joint ministry of Calvary and New Hope is exactly what NBC is about – and so Rev. Downing and I attended to learn more how to create a Covenant of Action with NBC, to learn from other paired clergy doing this work, to strengthen our own relationship, and to be spiritually and intellectually fed by the many speakers and workshop facilitators who led sessions on racial justice, racism and white privilege, and other related issues such as mass incarceration and local advocacy work.
The content of this conference was some of the strongest I have ever experienced. Highlights for me included:
- The preaching of Dr. Marvin McMickle who showed how it is the little things that divide us, and that little differences can, over time, create big divides. A theme throughout his sermon was: it’s not “Justice” until you can get past the “just us” mentality that has sickened our society.
- The wisdom of Ruby Sales, human rights activist and public theologian, whose presence was the closest thing to the Holy Spirit I have ever experienced. She challenged us to think about the language we use to speak of ourselves (white, black, etc.) and how that language cannibalizes our ancestry and our identities and our own journeys of immigration. Or how when we use the word “marginalized” we are using the language of an empire God not a liberating God, because no one created in the image of God is marginal. To use that language is to perpetuate the false divides we have created and to name people based on their fabricated social status not their belovedness. And, she also posed the challenging question: Is your church diversified or democratized? Meaning, to have people of different races and cultures does not make your church diverse if the liturgy, structure, and god-talk are still predominately of one cultural and theological persuasion, most likely Protestant Euro-American.
- The challenge of author Tim Wise who spoke persuasively and passionately about the radical humility we need to have as white people, and that we really have not grappled with the truth that Jesus embodied a brown body. Quoting extensive historical data and current statistics he implored, “to be blind to color is to be blind to the consequences of color.” He also broke down the difference between intra-personal racism (blatant white supremacy) and systemic racism (a country built on giving white people the advantage) – and said the latter is what we should be most concerned about. The true justice work is not about denouncing individuals being intentionally racist (although we should do that too). Rather, this is about good-intentioned people living in a racist society and system that we all perpetuate and coming to terms with that history before we can even begin to dismantle it.
- The story of First Baptist Church of Macon, GA and the First BaptistChurch of Christ of Macon, GA which I shared in my sermon last week. The shared history of these two churches is horrific at times, including the selling of two enslaved teenagers to pay for the pastor’s salary. Today, the churches are coming together to do the long, hard, grueling work of reconciliation. They are a model for what a Covenant of Action relationship looks like with New Baptist Covenant.
These and many more experiences and conversations with colleagues have encouraged and challenged both Rev. Downing and myself in our Calvary/New Hope partnership. We will have new developments to share with you soon about the partnership and our work together in Denver. As always, if you would like to be part of the leadership team in this work with New Hope, please email me.
Thank you for supporting our staff in attending conferences and continuing education events. They are renewing, enriching, and challenging – in all the best ways.