by Ray Higgins, CBFAR Coordinator
In early March, I attended the 8th CBF Advocacy in Action Conference. I was sitting in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Washington, DC with about 60 people, mostly next generation leaders in CBF life. It dawned on me that, 35 years ago, I was one of these young seminarians/post seminary ministers.
I was caught up in, what we called then, Christian ethics. Applied Christianity. Social action and social ministry. Today we call it social justice. Public witness. Advocacy. It is where Bible study, theology, the life of the church, and following Jesus engage the real world.
Leading the way were agency leaders like Foy Valentine (Christian Life Commission) and James Dunn (Texas Christian Life Commission and Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty), Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler (WMU), Paul Adkins (HMB Christian Social Ministry Department), seminary professors, and pastors.
The new progressive evangelical voices that broke into my world were professors Ron Sider and Tony Campolo, pastor J. Alfred Smith, and organizations like Bread for the World and Sojourners.
All of this starts coming back to me as I am sitting in this room. In the room there are a few contemporaries from those years, one of my seminary ethics students who has brought her own group of young leaders from Kentucky, and a sizeable team of young ministry leaders.
The catalyst for this new group is Stephen Reeves, an attorney who is CBF Global’s Associate Coordinator for Partnerships and Advocacy. The young leaders come from many corners, campuses and churches in CBF life.
We met in three DC churches: FBC, led by Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell; National Baptist Memorial Church, led by Pastor Kasey Jones; and Calvary Baptist, led in the interim by Pastoral Residents Elijah Zehyoue and Erica Lea.
We went to the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty’s and Bread for the World’s offices. We heard about the new work in Baptist life—The New Baptist Covenant.
We dug in on some of the major issues of the day: religious liberty, hunger, race, immigration, criminal justice, payday lending, Kingdom politics, and community well-being.
We experienced an ethics lab for what it means to see every person made in the image of God, love your neighbor, practice the Golden Rule, and live out Micah 6:8, Matthew 25, Luke 4, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Fruit of the Spirit in our relationships with other people, our communities and the world as we seek to be the presence of Christ.
Thirty-five years ago the world, church life and ministry were very different. But, the passion and the cause were the same. In the words of the old Christian Life Commission motto, we were “changed people changing the world” with the holistic, relevant, servant-oriented, transformative Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I made the trip with our associate coordinator who is a recent seminary graduate, and with a long time church deacon, retired family farmer with a master’s degree, and a historic and progressive kind of Baptist leader in CBFAR life who gets it when it comes to missions and advocacy.
For 2 ½ days in DC—in churches, with organizations, and on Capitol Hill—I was a part of the Church equipping ministry leaders to be the salt and light Jesus calls us to be. And, I discovered that my journey is alive in the present and future of Baptist life in the real world.