05 September 2011

Progressive Baptists

Saturday was a pretty good day in my estimation.  The weather wasn't the best, with temps around 65 and steady North winds, there was a reminder that a wonderful North Dakota winter is nearing.  So, it wasn't the weather that was great.  I did, however, get a couple of historical publications, one of which was Baptist History and Heritage.

This edition of Baptist History and Heritage focuses on the 50th anniversary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, an African American denomination.  While the fact that this is one of the 276 (probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much) Baptist denominations in America is not surprising or unique.  What is unique is the origin of this organization.  Frustration with one of the leading black Baptist groups, the National Baptist Convention, over issues of Civil Rights led those who were more committed to complete equality (including Martin Luther King, Jr.) to split off from the parent organization in 1961.

While I've not read the entire journal yet, I've found the first couple of articles pretty interesting.  One question that always comes to my mind when looking at churches and racial issues is why there are churches and racial issues.  Some of the most segregated groups in America today are churches.  There are "white churches" and "black churches."  I can understand ethnic churches or specific ethnic ministries for immigrants because of the language barrier.  However, even though cultures can be very different between ethnic groups, it seems that the whole "no Jew or Greek, male or female, etc." from Paul would preclude divisions based upon differences in culture when language is not an issue.  However, I guess it should not be surprising from a glance at some of Paul's letters (especially the one to the Galatians) that show problems between racial groups.  While it isn't surprising, it should not be thought of as ideal in any way.  Differing core theology would be a good reason for division, while ethnicity should not be a reason for division. 

With the word "Progressive" in the title, perhaps a definition is in order.  Today, political discourse at times seems to equate progressive with radical communists intent on overthrowing the established order.  In much of American history, this was not necessarily the case.  Theodore Roosevelt (a "progressive" president) was not interested in overthrowing capitalism or America, but rather in righting some serious problems that actually threatened to destroy "the system."  The idea of progress has generally been considered a positive, as it generally indicates an attempt at improvement.  While social activism is not exactly the main purpose of the church (in a general sense) in the world, in the area of race relations, a group that pushed the envelope for equality and integration deserves applause for their push in that direction. 

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