Southern Baptists Mull Whether 'Southern' Still Fits

The Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church Fairhope, Ala. RNS photo by

The Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church Fairhope, Ala. RNS photo by Bill Starling/The Press-Register.

FAIRHOPE, Ala. — For the Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Fairhope, being Southern Baptist is a defining aspect of life.

He embraces the denomination's conservative social values, extols its evangelism — "We reach out to people instead of waiting for them to come to us" — and identifies with its name.

The Rev. Jerry Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church Fairhope, Ala., has struggled with whether the Southern Baptist Convention should change its name to reflect greater geographic diversity.

Evangelical Consistency and the 2012 Elections

Unfortunately, many people who go to church on Sunday are more influenced by what they see on cable TV than by the Bible. I hear that lament from pastors all the time. Too many of their congregant’s political priorities are determined by a party or ideology – not the Word of God. Their identities are shaped by marketing and media campaigns that manufacture a view of the world in order to maximize their own power and profit.

The antidote is simple. Christians need to read their Bibles more. It makes a difference.

Yoga Sabbath: Shabbat Shal-OM.

800px-US_Navy_101108-N-8977L-001_Sara_Ukley,_a_morale,_welfare_and_recreation_fitness_instructor,_teaches_yoga_during_a_health_fair_and_aerobic-a-thonJust a few days after I returned from my respite in the mountains, Israeli forces killed eight Turkish nationals and one American on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla. Protests erupted all over Israel and Palestine.

In the midst of this tragic chaos I found myself visiting my yoga center more often than usual, hoping to find another glimpse of the peace I had tasted so vividly just a few days before. Perhaps these wise, centered people could offer a perspective that would look forward to a vision of understanding, or reconciliation -- a vision too often missed by politicians, military officials, media, and even activists.

Reflecting the Image of God

In reading some of the responses to my last post Embodied Theology, I was reminded of an essay I wrote for a class last semester, so I've rewritten part of it as a blog post to help clarify my position.

Embodied theology is rooted in the doctrine of creation. Why did God create us? As some have proposed, God couldn't not create or love us -- it's just part of God's nature. As a relational giver and lover within the Trinity, God couldn't help but be the same thing in relation with humanity. Who we are comes from God. We are not by nature sinful broken creatures, but creatures shaped in the very image of God.

Embodied Theology

Earlier this summer I attended a church service where the pastor, a man struggling with what appears to be his final bout with cancer, preached about the hope that Jesus promises to those who trust in him. After describing the returning Jesus brandishing a sword and dripping with the blood of all our vanquished enemies, he invited the audience to share what they saw as the hope that this Jesus promises. The responses ranged from no cancer, to no pain, to no worries about paying the bills, to the promise of an upgraded body -- all of course in heaven someday after we die. The congregation was encouraged to find contentment in the present from the possibility of realizing these promises someday. Our souls are what matter; the body just has to endure until our souls reach heaven. No mention of help with how to pay this month's rent or what it means for a cancer-ridden body to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, just the spiritual promise that someday all will be well.

Palestinian Nonviolence: Muslims, Not Christians, Are the Leaders

100216_090527-1503-palestineWhenever I give talks on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian livelihood, the status of nonviolence as a means to resisting the occupation, and how I believe nonviolence is the only way to move forward to resolve the conflict and create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the first and immediate questions I get from foreign visitors to my office in Bethlehem is, What you said is good, but what about the Muslims? Do they also believe in nonviolence? Do they understand it?" Even if I don't mention religion in my presentation -- and I rarely do -- this question always seems to make its way in our discussions.

What's in a Name?

Our current practice in the U.S. actually reflects the earlier legal reality of coverture: In the process of the "two becoming one flesh," the wife lost her rights to property, legal representation in court, and even her public identity as her husband became the sole representative for the family. This combination of identities (or, rather, the wife becoming lost in her husband's identity) led to wives taking their husbands' last names. For me, losing my surname would have represented silent assent to this oppressive practice.