September 18, 2017
Dear FBCD Family:
You all surprised me again on Sunday, this time by your very warm response to my message about "prodigal love." Applause broke out in the second service! Watch out, or I could start getting used to this!
I take the warm response in both services as reflecting growing clarity about our theological-ethical identity as a church. Every church needs to know who it is theologically and ethically. Baptists used to default to the Southern Baptist program as providing our identity, but we discovered to our horror in the 1980s that it was not enough. We discovered that different versions of what it meant to be Southern Baptist were abroad in the land, and that they were powerful enough to sunder our denomination.
Ex-Southern Baptist churches, in my view, have struggled to determine what our theological-ethical identity will be now, in the post-SBC landscape. Affiliation with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship provides some moorings but it is not quite enough to direct a congregation here in the second decade of the 21st century.
It's also not quite good enough to say that we are a "big tent" church. That is language that used to be employed to describe our church, but I don't think it really works. Even if we stay with the image of a tent, no tent is infinitely elastic. There is only so much cloth, and it can stretch only so far before it tears.
I would say that FBCD is a covenant community of seriously committed disciples of Jesus Christ. Our understanding of Christian community is markedly Baptist, it is deeply biblical, it is highly educated, it is compassion- and justice-oriented, and it tends toward the center-left of the contemporary spectrum of churches in our tradition.
One thing I was reminded of on Sunday is that many in our congregation have been marked by unhappy encounters with much more conservative or fundamentalist versions of Christianity. We have many who have been rejected by parents, relatives, friends, colleagues, or institutions on the basis of something open-minded, inclusive, or progressive about our theological and ethical commitments.
FBCD was a church that stood up relatively early (in our context) for racial integration, for women's equality in ministry, and for LGBTQ inclusion. We believe in higher education, thoughtful faith, and meaningful cultural and social engagement.
This means that we are not a church for everybody. But we are a church for an awful lot of people, especially in 21st century Decatur and the surrounding area.
I am proud to be a part of a church like this. Let's move forward together, living into this identity.