I came home from General Assembly in Greensboro, NC this year with a strong sense of how personal and close to the faithful hearts of Fellowship-folk our work is. Since the Orlando Pulse murders, some in CBF’s grassroots have issued impassioned calls for greater LGBTQ inclusion in the Church and in CBF life. CBF released two profound and touching statements of prayer and support for those affected by this particular shooting and the LGBTQ community more broadly. When a friend gave me a rainbow ribbon as a symbol of support for LGBTQ people, I quickly listed the names of a few people I love for whom inclusion in the church that reared them matters greatly. I also saw in my mind many other people I serve for whom accepting variations of sexual identity challenge their perspective but not their determination to love. I heard at GA how personally and faithfully field personnel take their responsibilities to the ones they love and serve, like when Tina talked about art in a prison and Kirk and Suzie shared the impact of 18 years spent translating the Bible into a little known language while living in the community. I saw the sustaining power of faithful friendship when BWIM honored Ka’thy Gore Chappell as this year’s distinguished mentor.
Ideas like evangelism, acceptance, justice, or service mingle with emotional tears when expressed in stories of deep longing and friendship. CBF will, like many other American denominations, grapple with difficult issues like racism, sexism, and inclusion. To engage these issues, I know that I need to hear more stories of personal transformation and love. I need to hear, like I did at General Assembly, the experiences of the marginalized, the passed over, the excluded, along with the established. I need to know people, not issues, because I meet Jesus in others. I need faces and stories to accompany the reading of scripture so that I might feel the heart of the Gospel. I need to know the deep pains and sustaining joys of many different people in CBF life so that difficult conversations come with faces and voices that are loved and embraced not dismissed or ignored. I need to make difficult questions personal in order to imagine the consequences of action or inaction.
I don’t know many details about it yet but CBF will launch in August the “Illumination Project,” a strategy for having difficult conversations within and among CBF partner congregations. I am hopeful that sharing our hearts, making these conversations personal in the context of our Baptist commitments, will help us discern avenues toward even more cooperative, faithful, and fruitful life together.