This year's Cooperative and American Baptists meetings were both held in June. The Baptist World Alliance meets in July. This summer I get to attend all of them (although a bit wearily by meeting number 3)! I pray transformative actions will emerge from these gatherings, as well as those of the National Baptists and National Progressive Baptists which will follow in later summer and early fall. As the Benedictines say, we must pray and work.
During the CBF gathering in Dallas, the Charleston shooting ravaged the national psyche—and these southern-bred Baptists in particular. The significance of the gathering being moderated by a black clergywoman was not lost on those in attendance; however, the continued blatant racism, violent in nature, seems nearly intractable. We did what the people of God know best how to do, we prayed and committed ourselves to covenants of action.
As the ABC Mission Summit convened in Overland Park, Kansas, we heard the news of the Supreme Court’s decision about same-sex marriage. Some cheered, and some walked out of the convention center when the decision was applauded from the pulpit. We will be talking about this for a long time, I am sure.
Where does Central fit into this larger discourse? Central is very clear in its opposition to racial discrimination and has been proactive in recruiting students from varied ecclesial traditions, especially black churches. Although a historically white seminary, minority students have always participated in the learning, and black faculty members have been a part of the instruction. In August, Central will convene a gathering of black and white ministers in St. Louis the day before the anniversary of the Ferguson tragedy. In particular, we will pay attention to the relationships between police officers and black citizens.
And what about the Supreme Court decision? Last spring, Central’s board and faculty unanimously passed a non-discrimination policy that specifically names sexual orientation and gender identity. We are working with the Arcus Foundation to promote a scholarly and pastoral approach to a theology of sexuality, in Burma and here at home. Thinking perceptively about the nature of differing sexualities is critical for ministerial competence in our day. We are not all in agreement, but preparing culturally relevant leaders is essential.
David Gushee, a leading evangelical ethicist, addressed the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists during the Mission Summit, and he spoke with clarity and compassion about his own journey to move to a different perspective. While he acknowledged that thoughtful biblical hermeneutics and good scientific engagement are part of constructing a new position, it really is about meeting people whose lives are faithful and who strive to live in covenantal ways.
I continue to grow in my understanding of the variegated dimensions of human identity, and I daily seek the wisdom from above to live with insight and compassion. I trust that I am following Jesus in this pursuit.
June has come and gone, but aftershocks will continue to shift the terrain of our shared community. Rather than contributing to the fracturing, let’s seek ways to find common ground, for the sake of Christ, for the sake of peace.
Molly T. Marshall
President and Professor of Theology and Spiritual Formation
For more about Central's work in the areas of peace and justice, visit www.cbts.edu.