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Female pastor tells CBF general assembly to beware of ‘other watchful conventions’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP)–Cooperative Baptists should beware of “other watchful conventions” that want to steal their joy and desire to dance, Sarah Jackson Shelton said during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship general assembly June 27.

Shelton, pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala., didn’t muster the courage to confront Southern Baptists openly, but veiled references to those who “will confront us on every side to inhibit our zeal and to take away our joy” were obviously directed toward the 16.2 million-member Southern Baptist Convention.

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the faith statement of the SBC, reads in part that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”

Shelton said that when she was a child she often danced in her family’s living room, that is, until a neighborhood friend saw her dancing and laughed. She put aside dancing forever.

“At the age of seven, I initiated into my life the feelings of inhibition, humiliation, anger and disappointment that the misunderstanding of others can evoke,” Shelton said.

She likened her own story to that of King David as he danced before the Ark of the Covenant. “While David’s experience was one offered in joy, his uninhibited dance caused his wife to despise him in her heart. It created such repugnance for her that Michal refused to join the rest of her family for their celebrative blessing,” she said.

Michal missed the main point of David’s dance, she said. “Yes, David was king but more than that David understood his role as servant to the Most High King. David knew that his responsibilities were first to God and then to his people. The truth of the matter is Michal was left totally out of the equation.”

In the same way, she said, many will not understand the pilgrimage of the CBF faithful. “If we truly believe that it is time to be Christ’s presence in the world then we had best beware,” she said.

“Sitting in Charlotte, surrounded by friends within the CBF, we find it wonderful to be carried away by the music and we are more than willing to do a quick ‘two step,'” Shelton said. “In other words, we find the companionship enabling us to be brave and bold about who we are and what we believe. But when we return home and we are faced with the realities of our congregations, our communities and other watchful conventions it is all too easy for the music to wane and for our dancing to be inhibited, stilted and, ultimately, to cease.”

Shelton said that the participants at the CBF had allowed conventional methods of ministry to define them rather than giving themselves “permission to color outside of the lines.”

“For too long we have struggled with our sense of identity by trying to please those who cannot let go of Baptist trappings and continue to walk and talk political lines,” she said. “For too long we have invested and drained our energy in the aloneness of being closeted CBF supporters rather than openly celebrating the joy found in relationships based solely on their integrity and that can provide creative outlets that can encourage and sustain us.”

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  • Gregory Tomlin