July 20, 2015

The Fabric of Baptist Life

          Thousands of Baptists are pouring into South Africa, first for the women’s conference in Johannesburg and then for the Baptist World Conference in Durban.  I will be attending the latter, which is a privileged opportunity for me.  Meeting for the first time on the African continent, the congress will illumine the breadth of Baptist life globally.

            The ecclesial trade routes are expansive, and when we gather we learn how the Baptist form of being Christian has taken root in the varied contexts.  Some are more liturgical, some are more charismatic, some are more doctrinally cerebral, and some see themselves as movements rather than institutions.  The varied hues of the Baptist fabric are beautiful to behold, as the pictures coming out of the women’s conference give evidence.

The majority Christian world is now in the southern hemisphere, and those of us from the north need learn from our spirited counterparts.  Especially during a time of racial fracturing in the US, I look forward to participating in the reality that “in Christ there is no East or West, in him no South or North, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”  John Oxenham’s 19th century lyrics will surely be on display as we weave new threads of connection.  The theme of the congress is “Christ, the Door,” and I trust we will sense the portals through which Christ is beckoning the Baptist form of churches in our day.
            Two Central representatives are traveling with me: Dr. Carol Ann Holcomb, member of Central’s board and Professor Emerita, Department of Human Nutrition, at Kansas State University, and Francisco Litardo, Director of Social Media at Central.  The journey will be richer through being shared with these treasured colleagues and friends.  We will get better pictures and eater better, too!

            On Thursday I will be presenting a paper in the Gender and Justice section of the conference.  It is entitled “A New Reformation: Challenging Gender Discrimination,” and I will be paired with Regina Claas, who has long served in South Africa.  I anticipate that she will invite a tribal woman to join in her presentation.  My presentation will explore the biblical and theological grounding that has been used historically to support patriarchal expressions of Christianity and the subjugation of women.  I will also highlight the most egregious forms of gender discrimination in our day and summon Christians to a liberative pathway.  This is not a new field of study for me, but offering perspectives in a different context calls for humility and sensitivity.
            My desire is that Central will grow stronger in its global engagement and awareness through our experience.  You will be hearing more about this journey, I promise!

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

July 13, 2015

The Power of Symbols

            Yesterday’s lectionary reading from the Hebrew Bible had a lengthy narration of the procession of the Ark of God from Baale-judah to the city of David, the appropriate home for the symbol of the presence of God among the people.  Scholars generally agree (can you imagine?!) that the installment of the Ark in Jerusalem was a pivotal move in consolidating David’s reign.
            The most memorable part of this story is David’s exhilaration at this process, which he celebrates in uninhibited dance.  While we do not know exactly what he had on as he danced before the Lord, his wife is not amused, but rather quite disgusted by his public display.  This heated confrontation with Michal definitively signals the end of King Saul’s rule, the era of her father.
            Religious and civil symbols hold great power, and their numinous influence captivates history and identity.  The story of the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant reveals how seriously humans must take an entity that conveys a connection to the holy.  When Uzzah attempted to steady the Ark after the oxen had stumbled, he was struck dead for merely touching it (2 Samuel 6:6-7). 

            This past Friday morning America witnessed an historic event, the lowering of the Stars and Bars, a vestige of racial oppression.  I was privileged to observe the event in a room pretty evenly divided between African American and European American Baptist leaders, and we suspended our agenda to gather together for this dramatic occasion.
            Observing the event with my revered sister, Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray, held special significance for me.  While our experience of racism has been different given our social location, our desire for the dream of a beloved community draws us together in hope.

            Sighs and tears accompanied our riveted attention to the meticulous and respectful transfer of the flag from over the South Carolina statehouse to a museum.  This emblem of Southern memory, and for some, contemporary pride, was freighted with too much baggage to continue to fly.
            Symbols have their seasons.  The Ark of God is not a continuing emblem of the presence of God in Christian theology; the Incarnate One, Jesus the Christ, eclipses the earlier sign of God’s accompaniment.  It is his life that allows us to draw near to God, as the whole of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares.  For clarifying events in our civil and our religious life, we give thanks.

            Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.