ORLANDO, Fla. (ABP) — Serious mission leaders have long understood that volunteers shed theological strait jackets when they bend together to meet needs of disaster victims.
In the storm-ravaged South, especially Alabama and Joplin, Mo., that truth is being confirmed — almost unnoticed — as Baptists of different perspectives find common ground working in the rubble.
Charles Ray coordinates disaster relief for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a national body disparaged for refusing commitment to biblical inerrancy by the larger body of Southern Baptists it left 20 years ago.
Bob Putman is communications director and disaster-relief coordinator for Converge Worldwide, the marketing brand name for what is the Baptist General Conference, a conservative group known by some as the Swedish Baptists.
Converge Worldwide’s most prominent pastor is John Piper, the Calvinist pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Piper is the symbolic, theological godfather of a growing Calvinist wave of future pastors graduating from Southern Baptist seminaries, most notably Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
Yet in the blood, mud, dust and rubble of disaster, Converge appreciates CBF’s methodology of working through local churches, its commitment to long-term solutions, its track record and yes, its theology.
“We trust their theology,” said Putman, who is confident CBF will be on site “for years and years.”
Because Converge has no national office for disaster relief, they work through others, such as the North American Baptist Fellowship Disaster Response Network.
“The challenge from this end is purely trust,” Putman said. “We are giving them funds and recommending our teams to them.”
In the case of the Atlanta-based Fellowship that trust is based on experience. “They were very helpful in directing our teams in (Hurricane) Katrina relief,” Putman said.
The Baptist General Conference has been a member of the Baptist World Alliance and NABF for decades, and its leaders have met and mingled with CBF leaders in BWA forums. In 2004 Southern Baptists pulled out of BWA, which it helped found in 1905, partly in protest of CBF’s admission the year before.
While noting points of disagreement on doctrinal matters, Putman said Converge and the CBF share a “brotherhood of belief and a brotherhood of spirit.”
For his part, Charles Ray welcomes Converge and everyone else willing to help. CBF operations in Joplin are housed at First Church of the Nazarene.
CBF volunteers are helping at homes and churches, and the churches don’t have to be Baptist to get a helping hand. “We don’t check pedigree,” Ray said.
“This is not the place, when people are hurting, to discuss our philosophies and theology,” Ray said. “If we’re going to call ourselves God-like or Christian, it’s time to go out and act like it.”
Putman, whose group also is working with the Missouri Baptist Convention, which is strongly aligned with the SBC, would caution against squeezing Converge Worldwide into a theological box other than Baptist. He said Converge is “pretty diverse” and “irenic in spirit.”
“We’re committed to the old Swedish irenic spirit,” he said. “We may fight in meetings about the stuff, but at the end of the day we’re brothers.”
Norman Jameson is reporting and coordinating special projects for ABP on an interim basis. He is former editor of the North Carolina Biblical Recorder.