DECATUR, Ga. – In a panel discussion at the New Baptist Covenant Summit in November, Stephen Reeves defined advocacy simply. “It’s speaking out for others,” said Reeves, who joined the staff of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in October as its associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy.
After a summer that saw Cooperative Baptists speaking out on issues such as immigration, Reeves’ presence at CBF has advanced the Fellowship’s advocacy work into the issue of predatory lending and eventually will expand this work into a partnership with the Baptist World Alliance at the United Nations.
Reeves is leading advocacy efforts on issues related to CBF’s eight mission communities, which are areas through which CBF engages individuals, field personnel, churches and ministry partners. The communities include Education, Economic Development, Healthcare, Justice and Peacemaking, Church Starts and Faith Sharing, Internationals, Disaster Response and Poverty and Transformation.
Joining Reeves and the CBF staff in January for a one-year term will be Dr. David Gushee as theologian in residence. A national and international writer, scholar and advocate, Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University.
He will serve as a partner and resource to help CBF communicate the important theological and biblical underpinnings of its work.
“My task will be to help CBF staff and the fellowship as a whole to think deeply about theological and ethical issues, especially those most relevant to our advocacy work,” Gushee said. “This fellowship of congregations and believers, like any other one, needs clarity about who we are in Christ, what it means to be Christ’s faithful people and how and why such faithful Christian people engage culture, society and public life.”
CBF state and regional organizations, congregations and pastors have been active this year in speaking out on behalf of others.
In April, a coalition of ministers affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina gathered at First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C., to urge Congress to pass immigration reform legislation. And in July, the Rev. Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., joined fellow clergy from across the theological spectrum in a press conference on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol calling for broad immigration reform.
“We are not here to endorse any specific bill or any particular process,” Griffin said in his remarks at the press conference sponsored by the Evangelical Immigration Table. Instead he urged members of Congress to ensure that reform includes “biblical principles and fundamental American values.”
That same month, Paynter called for Congress to enact immigration reform at a forum at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
“Immigrants in faith communities have been active in every aspect of congregational life and mission outreach,” Paynter said. “Yesterday’s immigrants are today’s leading pastors, theologians and compassionate missionaries. Immigrants are teaching and learning English and citizenship in classes at more than 500 churches across Texas. They are serving as chaplains in the armed forces, in hospitals and hospice.”
“Our challenge is to update and align our laws to protect our country, to enable potential and talent and to unite families,” Paynter said.
In addition to speaking out on behalf of immigrants, CBF has joined with ministry partners and partner congregations to become a leading voice opposing predatory or payday lenders, who trap consumers in a never-ending cycle of debt with their unethical and usurious lending practices. CBF staff has joined conversations with pastors of CBF partner congregations and leaders of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Comptroller of the Currency.
In October, Christian leaders from several southern states met and prayed in front of ACE Cash Express, a local payday loan store in New Orleans, La.
Several Baptist leaders attended the event hosted by the Rev. Dr. Willie Gable of Progressive Baptist Church, including Reeves, the Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas; and the Rev. Dr. Steve Wells, pastor, South Main Baptist Church, in Houston.
Haynes and Dr. George Mason, senior pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church, led a delegation from Dallas at the New Baptist Covenant Summit in November at the Carter Center in Atlanta. The leaders crafted a covenant to address the problem of predatory lending as part of the movement started by President Jimmy Carter in 2007 to break down barriers of race, theology and geography among Baptists so that Jesus’ mandate in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke to proclaim good news to the poor and set the oppressed free can be realized. The congregations will act “jointly to confront predatory lending practices that disproportionately harm the vulnerable … by educating our churches, advocating for more just laws, and creating alternative credit sources that promote the welfare of the lenders and borrowers alike.”
For his part, Wells testified before the Houston City Council and met with Houston Mayor Annise Parker about a proposed ordinance to increase oversight over predatory businesses.
And these advocacy efforts and those of other predatory lending opponents are making a difference.
In a huge victory, the ordinance passed the Houston City Council, 15-2, and the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. issued guidelines Nov. 21 aimed at protecting consumers from the predatory lending practices of banks.