American Baptists, Cooperative Baptists explore closer ties

American Baptists, Cooperative Baptists explore closer ties

Author and activist Tony Campolo brokered recent talks between heads of two national Baptist groups that share much in common, leaders of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship learned in February.

By Bob Allen

Leaders of American Baptist Churches USA and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship met recently in Philadelphia and Atlanta to explore closer cooperation between the two groups, interim Coordinator Pat Anderson told the CBF Coordinating Council Feb. 22.

Anderson has filled in since last summer’s retirement of former Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal and will stay on through March to help ease transition for Suzii Paynter, Vestal’s successor, who began work March 1.

Anderson’s interim duties included a recent meeting at ABCUSA headquarters in King of Prussia, Pa., part of Philadelphia’s metropolitan area, brokered by American Baptist minister, author and sociologist Tony Campolo.

Anderson said Campolo, who spoke at the CBF General Assembly in 2003 in Greensboro, N.C., “expressed his deep desire for CBF and ABC to be one.”

“He said his life dream is for it to be the Cooperative American Baptist Churches of the USA, or something like that,” Anderson said. “He said he realizes that at the age of 76, that dream will probably not come true in his lifetime, but he just wanted to focus on that dream.”

“We had a nice conversation about things we hold in common, much of our shared history and projecting the things that we should focus on together, because we have similar issues and problems and challenges as denominational entities,” Anderson said.

“Nothing concrete came out of that conversation, other than just an intentional desire for us to figure out ways to work more closely together as Cooperative Baptists and American Baptists,” he said.

After the half-day meeting at ABC headquarters, American Baptist General Secretary Roy Medley brought a similar delegation to visit the CBF Resource Center in Atlanta Feb. 5. Anderson said leadership teams of both organizations “made the commitment to each other that we would be more in touch with each other and would be looking to each other’s people and organization for ways that we can interact.”

Anderson said Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University and founder and president of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, expressed disappointment that neither American Baptists nor Cooperative Baptists are doing enough with young people, a key to future vitality of both organizations.

He proposed a national event bringing youth groups from both American Baptist and CBF churches together for a concert and Bible conference calling on young people to commit to two years of service in Christian work, Anderson reported. Campolo also envisioned collaboration between American Baptist and CBF-affiliated colleges and divinity schools to provide internships and student engaged-learning opportunities.

Anderson said he returned to the Atlanta staff with a message from Campolo to not to be surprised some day to receive a call out of the blue from him telling them to mobilize 20,000 kids on a particular date. Acknowledging huge logistical problems of such an undertaking, Anderson pointed out that Campolo is less focused on organization than vision.

“When you combine dreams like that and then the nitty-gritty institutional cares that we have to be concerned with, you begin to appreciate the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship,” Anderson said.

“American Baptist Churches — and Suzii — can report that every other church body in the world, every other denominational entity in the world, is very envious of CBF,” Anderson said. “We can reorganize. I mean, other denominational groups are just shocked and jealous and in awe of us to be able to reorganize.”

American Baptists and the CBF already have a track record of collaboration. The two groups have jointly appointed missionaries and met together in 2007 in Washington. They have partnered together in disaster response, and both belong to groups including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Baptist World Alliance.