By Julie Whidden Long
When I was eight years old, I informed my parents that I was ready to join our Baptist church and be baptized. My mother encouraged me to go and talk to our pastor more about my decision, to which I replied, “I don’t need to go talk to the pastor. I know what I’m doing!”
My family has laughed about this story through the years. I’m sure it was not my parents’ first clue that I would continue in the line of strong, independent women in my family, and I think my parents were embarrassed to tell the pastor that I planned to walk the aisle but refused to come talk to him about it. But perhaps my first declaration of my desire to be a Baptist Christian was indeed appropriate. While I doubt anyone had ever told me of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers or of the Baptist ideals of freedom of conscience or of our history of rugged individualism, I evidently had absorbed that spirit somewhere along the way. But also tucked into that independent decision about my own faith journey was a desire to do that within the community of the church in which I was being raised. I like to think that my earliest Christian confession was deeply Baptist, for Baptists have always held these two in tension – a strong conviction of individual freedom and a deep calling to work together, despite our differences.
I picked up a few other convictions by osmosis in my Baptist church along the way. Even though I found myself bored by church conferences as a youth, I absorbed a preference for making decisions in a way that allows everyone to have a voice. As I wrestled with the place of prayer in public schools for a high school term paper, my pastor led me to understand that religious freedom for all persons was not in conflict with my Baptist Christian heritage. And I picked up enough openness from my Sunday School teachers and youth leaders that my faith was not crushed when I went to college and was exposed to new methods of Biblical interpretation.
I have never seriously considered not being a Baptist Christian. Those core values of intellectual and personal freedom, cooperation, and a respect for the beliefs of others became as much a part of my formation as the ethics and manners and practices instilled in me by my family. Being Baptist is a part of who I am.
Thankfully, because of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other Baptist groups with whom I identify, I continue to claim my “Baptistness.” CBF Baptists uphold these same values and make space for me to live out my calling as a woman in ministry. I am a Baptist because I was born a Baptist and was formed a Baptist. I am a CBF Baptist because in this time and place, this is the Baptist family that embraces and continues to form the convictions that are a part of my core identity.
Julie Whidden Long is Associate Pastor and Minister of Children and Families at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga. This column is part of a yearlong series sponsored and hosted by the Baptist History & Heritage Society, one of the Fellowship’s partners, exploring and celebrating why young Baptists identify with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Keep up with this “Voices of Young Baptists” series throughout 2015 by signing up to receive the Baptist Studies Bulletin, the free monthly online journal of BHHS providing articles, editorials and book reviews on Baptist history and issues of importance to Baptist individuals and congregations.