Vol. 6 No. 4




  The Jesse Mercer Plaza
  Mercer University, Macon Campus 

Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
A Monthly EMagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today


Walter B. Shurden, Executive Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin


Visit The Center for Baptist Studies' Web Site at

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I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "What I Have Taped to My Personal Computer"

The Baptist Soapbox: Beth Fogg

         "Lessons My Father Taught Me"
Baptists and Creation Care: Laura Webb Smith

         "Watts Street Baptist Church and Creation Care"

Baptists and Public Policy: Melissa Rogers

         "Increasing Our Activism on Policy Issues" 
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "Political God-Talk"

Dates to Note

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23-25 September 2007

The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort
St. Simons Island, GA

Featuring Barbara Brown Taylor

Click here for more information and registration.

I Believe

"What I Have Taped to My Personal Computer"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that what we place on our refrigerators says much about who we are and what we care about. And if you are like me, what you have taped to your computer says volumes about you.
          Only recently did I notice that on the edges of my PC at home, I have taped quotations that speak of my passion, my confession, my imperfections, and my aspirations.
          My passion: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This is why I support the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; the BJC wages verbal and legal war in defense of these words. The BJC needs my help and yours.
          My confession: “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one: and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 29-31. This is the only confession/creed that I will sign. It comes from Jesus.
          My imperfections: “I can see, but not clearly. I am healed, but not completely. I am saved, but not entirely.” This comes from a sermon by good friend Frank Tupper. He must have been reading my diary.
          More imperfections: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone, therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint; therefore we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.” This comes from Reinhold Niebuhr. Hope, faith, love, and forgiveness—here are words that speak of my needs!
          My aspirations:

                        When it’s over, I want to say all my life
                        I was a bride married to amazement
                        I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
                        I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

          These are the closing lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, “When Death Comes.” They speak to me of the amazing mystery of life and of the need for each of us to matter.
          More aspirations:

                        I will not die an unlived life
                        I will not live in fear
                        of falling or catching fire.
                        I choose to inhabit my days,
                        to allow my living to open me,
                        to make me less afraid,
                        more accessible,
                        to loosen my heart
                        until it becomes a wing,
                        a torch, a promise.
                        I choose to risk my significance,
                        to live so that which came to me as seed
                        goes to the next as blossom,
                        and that which came to me as blossom,
                        goes on as fruit.

            This is Dawna Markova’s “Living Wide Open: Landscapes of the Mind.” For me, these daunting words remain aspiration, not achievement.
            Frederick Buechner said that all theology is autobiography. Much of what is magnetized to my refrigerator and taped to my PC is also autobiography. What do your frig and PC say about you?

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends

The New Baptist Covenant

Learn more about this exciting and historic celebration
and the January 30, 2008 gathering in Atlanta by
visiting the official web site.


Baptist Soapbox

The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin, though sometimes they are). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Beth Fogg, former President of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and former member of the Coordinating Council and Advisory Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

"Lessons My Father Taught Me"
By Beth Fogg

            I lost my father in February.  He died peacefully, after suffering a series of strokes, secure in the knowledge that healing was waiting for him in heaven.  I am glad that he is now whole again, although I miss him every day.  But I have been thinking about him a lot lately, and the lessons that he taught me.  These lessons are why I am involved in preparing for the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.
            My father, William J. Cumbie, had a passion for the oneness of Christ’s family on earth.  He was a strong and articulate Baptist, but he was able to focus on the ties that bind rather than the differences that separate within and between denominations.  Many of his formative experiences occurred within the Baptist World Alliance family, and he felt strongly that the experience of community among Baptists was a mountaintop event.  He taught me this passion, and that is one reason why I am excited to share a time of community with my Baptist brothers and sisters in North America.
            My father believed strongly in the equality of all human beings before God.  He taught us as children to memorize portions of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  In the early 1960s, he helped form ties between African American Baptists and white Baptists in Northern Virginia.  As the world moved to Northern Virginia, his reach across racial lines grew to include persons of different culture and ethnicity.  Healing the wounds that the sin of racism had caused in our Baptist family was a high priority.  I am proud to be able to participate in an event which will help to renew ties that should never have been broken.
            My father understood that we as Christians have a responsibility to assist the “least of these.”  Not only did he put feet to his faith, but he taught us by example the joy of helping others in Jesus’ name.  The potential of working together across racial, ethnic, and denominational lines to make a difference in the lives of others is a powerful motivator to me to participate in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.
            Finally, my father had a drive to “make a difference for good and for God” in the world.  His evaluation of whether each day had been a good one was whether he had done something to make the world a better place.  He believed firmly that one person could change the world.  In his last months, he was thrilled that President Carter, his long-time friend Jimmy Allen, and others also acted on this belief, and that they were stepping forward to let their voices be heard.  He was my greatest cheerleader as I added my voice to the chorus that was growing.
            I am truly excited about the possibilities of the 2008 Celebration and the potential for ongoing cooperation among Baptists.  I consider it a high honor to be participating with those planning the event.  But most of all, I appreciate the lessons my father taught me to allow me to be where I am today.

Editor's Note:  The late William J. Cumbie was a former pastor and Director of Missions in Virginia, former President of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and parliamentarian for many BGAV and several SBC meetings.

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Baptists and Creation Care:  This series focuses on Baptist responses to environmental issues.  Laura Webb Smith is the chair of the Environmental Mission Group at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC, where she has been a member since 2000. Laura is an environmental educator by vocation, with a special interest in faith and ecology. She holds Master of Environmental Management and Master of Arts in Teaching degrees from Duke University.

"Watts Street Baptist Church and Creation Care"
By Laura Webb Smith

Our church started an Environmental Mission Group in 2000.  We began by addressing this question:  “What does the environment have to do with church?”  In true Baptist fashion, we asked our congregation to seek the answer.  In response, individual members submitted reflections for a Daily Lenten Devotional Guide.  The devotions ranged from a study of a particular scripture to a remembrance of a connection with God through an experience in nature.  Together, we explored God’s call for us to be in relationship with Creation. 
           Throughout the church’s history, this question has been ignored, then answered with a dominion point of view, and more recently, addressed with a stewardship point of view.  Our mission group is exploring a call to right relationship with the Earth that extends beyond even stewardship.  This call moves us from benevolent dominion to kinship–a recognition of the true interdependence between humans and non-human parts of Creation.    Seeking a kinship perspective, the Watts Street Environmental Mission Group has blended congregational opportunities for reflection, for learning, and for action. 
           Encouraging our congregation to reflect upon our relationship with Creation, the mission group offered a weekend retreat opportunity in a beautiful natural setting with leaders who had us explore our own “Earth Stories” through discussion, music, worship, and silent reflection.  For elementary-aged children, we led “Kids and Nature Connect,” a weekly summer series designed to help children connect with Creation through hikes, planting flowers, experiences with animals, stories, and art.  Prayer, reflection, and direct experience with the Creator provide the foundation for further learning and action.
           The group has offered several educational opportunities to the congregation at large.    This past fall, the focus was “Energy Matters.”  We started with a screening of Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.”  We also viewed the enlightening documentary, “Killowatt Ours.”  A representative from a local non-profit talked to us about her group’s efforts to promote solar hot water heaters around town.  Finally, we issued a challenge to our congregation called “Our Own Private Kyoto.”  Each family is encouraged to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 10%.  We handed out refrigerator magnets with specific actions and how much each action reduces carbon dioxide.  A giant earth is posted on a bulletin board, covered by a plastic film.  For every 100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a family eliminates, they can cut a square off of the film, revealing a clearer Earth. 
           Called to action, the Environmental Mission Group leads the way in “greening” the church, affecting both waste production and energy consumption at church.   Our efforts have led to the start of a compost pile to handle scraps from weekly communal suppers, a reduction in plastic waste from church suppers, the installation of energy-efficient bulbs around the church, and other practical measures.  Our action extends to contacting decision-makers about important environmental issues in our community and our nation.  Action at home and at church seems to follow naturally from heeding the call to right relationship.
           Earth Day 2007 is near!  “Living with enough” is the theme of our upcoming all-ages-beach retreat over the Earth Day weekend.  We will focus on stories throughout the Bible of God’s provision.  Relying on God’s plenty conflicts with our culture’s never-ending demand for more stuff.  However, relying on God’s plenty is a spiritual discipline that can bring us closer to kinship, a right relationship with Creation.  So may it be.

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Baptists and Public Policy

Baptists and Public Policy:  Some Baptist groups, including the Alliance of Baptists, Baptist Center for Ethics, Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty (BJCRL), and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, have long been engaged in policy work. This series is designed to spark conversations among a wider circle of Baptists who are now considering engaging in this kind of activity. Melissa Rogers is visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School, previously serving as executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and as general counsel to the BJCRL.

"Increasing Our Activism on Policy Issues"
By Melissa Rogers

In this series, I have argued that more Baptists ought to be vocal on issues of public policy.  For example, I have suggested that the Biblical call for justice is one source of motivation for more of us to speak out about the fact that 9 million American children currently lack health insurance. 
There are a variety of appropriate ways in which we could increase our activism on certain policy issues.  Let me discuss a couple of them. 
          One way would be for more of us to join and support secular groups that speak to these issues.  In other words, we could channel our concerns through some of the outstanding non-religious groups that are working on issues that have important moral dimensions. 
          Another way to respond to these issues would be for more of us to join and support religious groups, including Baptist groups, that engage in policy discussions.   As you know, a number of excellent single-faith and interfaith groups currently play roles in policy debate.
          Are there reasons for us to give special consideration to addressing policy concerns through religious groups?  I believe there are.  For example, religious groups are often particularly adept at highlighting the ethical issues at stake in policy decisions, something that frequently needs amplification.  And, because many continue to look to religious communities for moral leadership, activism by these communities typically carries a good deal of weight, both with policymakers and with Americans generally.  Religious leaders frequently do a wonderful job of pricking consciences and spurring action.
          Moreover, I would say that there is a special need today to strengthen some of the religious voices in the policy arena that are not as well known.  The agenda and tactics of some of most prominent religious groups practically cry out for others to make it clear that many people of faith see things differently.
          Let me focus on a more specific question.  Are there reasons for us to give special consideration to addressing policy concerns through Baptist bodies and as Baptist individuals?  Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to ask another: Does the Southern Baptist Convention speak for you?  If not, then let me suggest that it is essential for other Baptist bodies and voices to address policy matters as well. 
          To cite one example, the Baptist Joint Committee plays a critical role by providing a traditional Baptist voice on issues of religious freedom.  It, along with an array of other distinguished Baptist bodies, has long done admirable work on policy issues.  These organizations deserve increased support.
          Religious engagement in the policy debate, however, does require us to think through some sensitive issues.  For example, when we enter the policy arena in the name of religion, we must take great care to respect the democratic process and the integrity of faith.  Of course, the Baptist bodies mentioned above have already carefully considered these issues.  But, at a time when we are thinking about strengthening our activism on policy issues, it’s worthwhile to review them.  In the next part of this series, I’ll discuss these issues in greater detail.

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In Response To ...

In Response to . . . :  The Associate Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, Bruce previously served as a campus minister and professor of Church History.  In addition, he is an Internet entrepreneur and photographer, and is ABD in his doctoral studies in American History at Auburn University. 

"Political God-Talk"
By Bruce T. Gourley

           I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
            I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewishwhere no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical sourcewhere no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officialsand where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
            For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jewor a Quakeror a Unitarianor a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victimbut tomorrow it may be youuntil the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

            These were the words of presidential candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960, in response to Baptist opposition to his candidacy born out of fear that Kennedy’s religion might influence his politics.  Although written 47 years ago, he accurately foresaw a day when religion would endanger our nation.
            We now live in a time when many American evangelicals, including some Baptists, endorse presidential candidates precisely because of certain religious views, with the expectation that their candidate, should he win the presidency, will reshape American politics at home and abroad to mandate certain religious beliefs upon the whole of America.  In so forsaking the Baptist, and American, heritage of separation of church and state, the “whole fabric of our harmonious society” has been “ripped apart at a time of great national peril.”
            As the spring of 2007 arrives, yet another presidential election cycle is upon us, arriving earlier than ever as candidates from both major parties seek early front-runner status.  The Religious Right is again seeking a candidate who will impose their religious views upon all of America.  And this time around, the “Left” has discovered religion, evidenced in the “God-talk” of Democratic candidates.  Christians are tempted to choose the candidate who best speaks the language of their personal religious convictions.  But John F. Kennedy’s words of long ago remind us of the folly of turning presidential campaigns into religious contests.
            Our Baptist forefathers of old, led by John Leland and Isaac Backus, refused to let religion compromise their politics, or politics compromise their religion.  In politics, they sought out individuals who would champion minority groups and respect and fight for equal rights for all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation or absence of religious affiliation.  In matters of faith, they zealously guarded any attempt by politicians to use religion as a wedge, hammer or anvil.
            The wisdom of John F. Kennedy and our Baptist forefathers reminds us to be especially wary of presidential candidates who insist on resorting to “God-talk.”  Instead, we should listen carefully to discern those candidates who have a true respect for all American citizens, a commitment to treat all as equals, and the courage to not allow religion to further rip apart our great nation.

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Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Holy Ground: A Resource on Faith and the Environment

"Exploring environmental racism, eco-feminism, and population explosion, this study guide offers an exciting challenge to all of us who share creation. Offers practical reflections and models for action through articles and study questions. Contains organization and publication listings. Suitable for committed environmentalists and people newly exploring environmental issues. Four sessions, 68 pages."

Justices Rule Against Bush Administration on Emissions
New York Times

The ruling is a win for the environmental movement and the effort to slow global warming.

Dates to

Dates to Note

April 20, 2007, Judson-Rice Award Dinner honoring Dr. Wayne Flynt, Birmingham, Alabama, Wynfrey Hotel.  For more information and registration click here.

June 7-9, 2007, Baptist History and Heritage Society (BHHS) Annual Meeting, Campbellsville, Kentucky. Theme: "African Americans in Baptist History." For more information, visit the BHHS web site.

June 27, 2007, Pre-CBF Annual Conference, Christian Ethics Today (CET), Hyatt Grand Hotel in D.C.  Theme: "The Minister and Politics: Being Prophetic Without Being Partisan."  Speakers: Jim Wallis, Greg Boyd, Melissa Rogers and Tony Campolo.  Go to the CET site for more information.

June 28-29, 2007, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, Washington D.C.  Theme: "Free to Be the Presence of Christ." Click here for more information, including registration.

September 23-25, 2007, Mercer Preaching Consultation 07, St. Simon's Island, Georgia.  Featuring Barbara Brown Taylor." Click here for more information, including registration.

For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the Online Baptist Community Calendar.

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