Editor’s Note: This is the thirteenth 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 Shauw Chin Capps
All my life I have had to straddled two worlds.
I was born in Indonesia but lived in Singapore because my parents wanted us to receive the best education, and they believed Singapore offered that. I was born into a culturally Buddhist family but at the age of sixteen I made a decision to follow Jesus because I was drawn to the love and compassion he showed in the Gospel of John (the first book of the Bible I laid eyes on).
It was a real challenge for my parents to feel comfortable with my decision and understandably so especially given the cultural context. The church I attended in Singapore was an International Baptist Church where there was a good mix of Caucasian and Asian families. My faith was nurtured in that youth group, and when I made a public decision to be a follower of Jesus, a Baptist missionary family (from America) took me under their wings to disciple me.
I fell in love with that family and eventually fell in love with their son, so I had to overcome the barrier of a cross-cultural and cross-racial marriage. This was an even harder challenge for my parents. In that process, Paul (my husband) and I learned to be patient, to love them, to give them time and to wait for them. We wanted to be a witness of Christ’s love and grace and we trusted God in our journey. We had a long two-year engagement because we waited for my parents’ approval. It was a long wait, but worth every minute!
I left Singapore at the age of 18 to attend college in America as an international student. I remembered feeling so lost in the gigantic campus of a state college and looking for the walls that would make up the boundaries of what I knew a school building should look like. I never found those walls but did find that I had to take the bus from class to class because the campus was so large!
I learned with horror that I had to “participate” in class by talking in order to get points. In Singapore the best students were the ones who stayed quiet. I had to learn the “ways of America” in order to survive. At one point, I even adopted an American name because I wanted to make it less awkward and easier for my American friends, but I ditched that after becoming smarter about the importance of being culturally competent.
After college, I attended the Carver School of Church Social Work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the precarious transition time when Al Mohler was just coming into leadership. My class was the last graduating class of Carver. It was a confusing time for me as I had little knowledge of the politics and controversy among Southern Baptists, though I quickly learned. I’m glad I chose to persevere and stick through it. Without the steady guidance and focused leadership of my mentor Diana Garland, I would not have made it.
I did not become an American citizen until 2000, the same year my first daughter was born in the year of the Golden Dragon and named after the deliverer of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I still celebrate Chinese holidays and traditions, talk to my parents in Chinese and think I still have a little bit of an accent (my girls remind me of that on occasion). I’m proud of my Asian roots and can cook some mean Asian cuisine — American too.
Today, I still straddle two worlds.
I attend a dually-aligned church in Beaufort, South Carolina. Most of the members know little about the history of SBC and CBF. I feel that might be changing with my position as Moderator-Elect, as this has helped provide a platform for education.
We have a couple of members who have not attended worship service when a woman was preaching that Sunday. We also have members who have stated discomfort about seeing any gay members serve in any form of church leadership. We have a team of ushers who are all men and who struggle with including women and young people, in spite of having women deacons.
At one point, we had a youth minister who taught creationism and made my daughter cry because she did not like the way he was demeaning toward people who were not Christian. I even faced opposition from some members who did not want me to teach Sunday school because of my “liberal” views about women and the Bible. This all sounds pretty awful but this has been my norm — straddling two worlds.
Yet I love my church community, even those I strongly disagree with. In fact, I worship beside these folks every Sunday, I teach Sunday school and I love on their children and encourage especially their daughters whenever they take on leadership roles within the life of the church.
The ministers at my church are amazing, and not surprisingly, they sit under the big tent of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. They have taught me that loving others is hard work, that being a follower of Jesus is not about being right, that change takes time, that in God’s Kingdom the last shall be first and that love (since God is love) always wins.
To be perfectly honest, there have been times I’ve been tempted to leave, and my pastor will attest to that struggle, but our church’s big tent statement of belief is able to cover both people like me and people unlike me. Even today, I find myself envious of many of you who are in uniquely-aligned CBF churches. Yet, there’s a part of me who believes that I’m exactly where I need to be. Why? Because I have a funny feeling that the Kingdom of God looks a lot more like my messy church and my messy life journey.
I believe that the CBF Governing Board’s Illumination Project is a much needed process and has the potential for both unity and disunity. The good news is we get to choose which path we take.
As I look back at my life and faith journey, what has mattered most is community. A community that offered love and grace with no pretense and no agenda, but a safe space to be a child of God. The Fellowship is that community for me, as imperfect as it is. After all, if it were not for the work of Baptist missionaries, I would not be where I am today.
Those two missionaries who are now my in-laws sit under the CBF tent too, although they were employees of the Southern Baptist Convention for 34 years. I feel safe in that big tent where diverse people and opinions can coexist. Yes it’s messy, we don’t always agree and sometimes we get mad at each other and even fight. Doesn’t that sound like what a healthy relationship looks like?
The Illumination Project will likely show that there are a spectrum of diverse views on human sexuality under the CBF tent. That’s not anything we don’t already know, but the question is, can we straddle those worlds while still holding on tight to one another? If love always wins and if Jesus has his say, I think we know the answer. After all, the one who is the master of straddling two worlds chose to hold on tight to us, even to the point of death.
Shauw Chin Capps is the Moderator-Elect for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and is a member of Baptist Church of Beaufort in Beaufort, S.C.