I shared this story in a sermon several weeks ago.
One of my former youth had the opportunity to spend a week after Christmas in Calcutta working with the Sisters of Charity, Mother Teresa’s convent. All week they had worked with the poorest of the poor of that city, learning so much. On the last night they had the privilege of having a conversation with Mother Teresa.
This was at the height of the Cold War when relations between the US and the former Soviet Union were at their height. Fear was the mood of the world. So as they were about to conclude, one student asked this great saint, “Mother Teresa, what are you doing to eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation?”
Her response surprised them all. “Nothing. I have been called to care for the sick and dying of Calcutta. You go and save the world from nuclear destruction. Perhaps that is your calling.”
I remembered it as I read Robert Parham’s column in the aftermath of the recent General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. For a decade and a half CBF has operated under a discriminatory hiring policy that was created in an atmosphere of fear. (Bob Setzer tells the story well. ) It was a policy that was created to protect rather than progress; created in fear rather than faith; created for exclusion rather than inclusion. For 15 years it has hung around our neck, and it is strangling us.
But this year steps were taken to at least talk about moving forward. “The Illumination Project” was announced to give us an opportunity to at least recognize that the world has changed, and if we are going to move forward our policies have to as well.
Yet it seems that Robert Parham, the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, does not believe we are capable of having this conversation. He asked, “Why prioritize the LBGTQ issue given the multitude of issues that need addressing and around which consensus exists? Why is there the need for such a project now?”
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I will assume that he believes that this conversation will detract us from some of the other wonderful ministries that we witnessed at the General Assembly—the work of the Baptist Joint Committee, students training for ministry in a network of seminaries and divinity schools, missions in places that we would be hard pressed to find on a map with people and languages that we could not identify. We heard about work that is being done to eliminate predatory lending that feeds on the weakest among us. We heard about ministries in hospitals, and with our military. We heard a call to reach past the color of our skin to do the work of the kingdom. All of these are important! All of these are needed!
But so is this conversation!
It may not be one that Robert feels calls to participate in. But that doesn’t mean that there are not others who have heard that specific call, and to say that their calling is unnecessary, to insinuate that it is less important, that it can wait….
Such a stance is the height of arrogance that say he alone knows what is needed. It demeans the ability of free and faithful Baptist to do more than one thing well. It fails the “Mother Teresa Test.”
The Illumination Project may not be your calling, Robert. But for God’s sake, for the future’s sake, for the sake of all those for whom this is their life’s calling, do not demean it! This project asks for everyone’s compassion, wisdom, and voice.