As I write this, I’m sitting next to an open duffle bag and clothes and books are strewn around – I’m also packing for the ABC (USA) biennial conference. While it was convenient to have the conference in Portland two years ago, and wonderful to get to show off this area and the great work of its churches, I’m excited about heading to Virginia Beach and seeing how American Baptists there – and around the country – are living out their ministries in their own contexts, practicing their own “church freedom.”
In the Welcome Class in May, when we reviewed the Four Freedoms of our denomination, one participant asked, “So, if everyone is so free [to interpret scripture themselves, to trust their own souls about who God is and what God is saying, to determine their own local church’s ministry]…what happens when they disagree? Who has the authority to make final decisions?” That’s the tension, right? In a denomination that emphasizes freedom, what happens when our own instincts, intuitions, experiences, and readings lead us to different conclusions?
The only answer I knew – and the one I think is true – is that we figure it out in community. The “authority” is the congregation. We vow to be with and for each other, and working through these disagreements together leads us, maybe to a different understanding than either of us started with, but to one that’s faithful to our life together. I’m looking forward to gathering with lots of Baptists, in all our diversity, and to celebrating the good that can happen in the world, and in our local churches, when this diversity is respected and honored. I hope to return with lots of stories and ideas to share!