Editor’s Note: This is the twelfth installment of a new series called “Illuminations,” which aims to highlight stories of cooperation, unity and diversity from across the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Illuminations is a communications initiative of the Illumination Project, a project of discernment and accompaniment involving CBF congregational leaders to illuminate the qualities that have built unity in CBF, and through discernment, identify intentional processes to maintain and grow unity through cooperation. Learn more about the Illumination Project at www.cbf.net/illuminationproject.
By Emily Holladay
I grew up in the home of a Baptist pastor during a time of high anxiety in Baptist life. Our front door was neatly situated on Grinstead Dr., in Louisville, Ky., with a view of the backside of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Campus.
From an early age, I understood that being Baptist meant division and disillusionment. By elementary school, I knew to call myself “dually-aligned,” and I felt myself pulled in even more directions by high school when one minister told me one thing, another something different and still another proposed more opposing thoughts.
I remember one college visit I made with my dad. We were driving home and I was reading my Bible, when I came across a passage where Paul was admonishing the early Christians to have no divisions among them. I think that was the moment I asked my dad that question he had been dreading for the last decade:
“Dad… if the Bible says we are not supposed to be divided, why are there so many denominations? And before you answer that, why are there so many different kinds of Baptists?”
While that may have been the perfect moment for my dad to introduce me to the Four Fragile Freedoms or all the particulars of the Controversy that divided Southern Baptists, he didn’t. He merely explained that, as people, we all understand things differently, and for better or worse, denominations help accommodate for those differences. But, at the end of the day, we are all still Christians.
Leaving Louisville to attend college at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., I got to pick my own church for the first time. Through that process, I learned very quickly that I could no longer live under the pretense of dual-alignment, and that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship best fit my understanding of what it meant to be Christian.
As a college and seminary student, I chose to invest much of my time in CBF churches and partner organizations, working for Passport Camps and in the CBF Global offices. Those experiences led me not only to understand CBF as a group with which I most identify, but also as a fellowship of believers that connects me to a global community, always broadening my circle of kinship and understanding.
Over the years, I have partnered with:
- David Harding to build wells in villages in Ethiopia;
- Jen and Trey Lyon to provide a welcoming space in Atlanta for groups of youth and college students to immerse themselves in urban mission;
- Missy Ward to bring spiritual and physical healing to women in Uganda who fell victim to violence in their home or otherwise;
- The Rick’s Institute in Liberia, helping young Liberians gain an education in a post war society.
These partnerships opened my eyes to a world beyond “dual-alignment,” beyond division and disunity. Working alongside people of different cultural, economic and even religious backgrounds reminded me that we are all part of a larger story, and that God needs each of us to make a difference for all of us.
Nowhere have I seen this more prominently than when I moved back to Louisville and witness the beginning of EmpowerWest, a movement started by a group of black and white clergy (mostly, at first, from CBF of Kentucky), who wanted to begin to bridge racial and economic divisions that plague the city.
These pastors, most of whom lived and ministered in Louisville in the 1990s when discord was the theme of Baptist life, through their friendship and unity, are helping the city of Louisville to gain a new understanding of what we mean when we say we are Baptist. People in Louisville are beginning to recognize the name CBF in a town dominated for decades by the Southern Baptist Convention, because a few pastors decided there would be no other ways to fix a broken system than for them to work together.
If you could be a fly on the wall in their weekly meetings, you would notice that the pastors represent a wide range of churches – conservative, moderate, progressive, large, white, black, small, educated, less educated, etc. Thus, I know their conversations are not easy. They do not ultimately walk in the room with agreement or consensus. But, they work tirelessly, week after week, to understand each other – to learn from one another – to build ties that bind.
Blessed be the ties that bind, our hearts in Christian love. The Fellowship of kindred minds, is like to that above.
This, above all, is what CBF uniquely has to offer that almost no other faith body does. We bless the ties that bind and celebrate the partnerships we are able to have. Our cooperation comes from conversation and understanding. Our union is built from a deep desire to understand one another.
Emily Holladay serves as the associate pastor for children and families at Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and is a member of the CBF Nominating Committee.