KBC’s William Rogers talked of our partnerships with African-American Baptists in terms of his marriage: “I have my agenda; (my wife) has her agenda; and together, we have our agenda.” Because of our unique cultural experiences, the needs of our communities, and our understandings of what God expects us to do, Black and White Baptists cannot agree on all the same agendas. We can share some, however.
Twenty years into our marriage, I began realizing that my wife and I could not always unite with shared agendas. But I further discovered that non-agreement did not weaken our bonds, as I had earlier believed; it strengthened our resolve to talk, reflect and regard each other as equals—full partners. Divorces occur because partnerships become unequal. Partners try to control the other. O, that we might understand Bill Rogers’ wisdom: shared agendas.
Many of us give up partnering with others because their values seem so foreign. Often, at that point, we play “win-lose,” and someone becomes deeply bruised by the game. Southern Baptists once covered a broad theological waterfront: great diversity—and great strength in it. But old hurts and the absence of forgiveness finally evoked the worst of us. We played “win-lose,” but all of us lost.
Finding that we could not always unite, we feverishly sought control, but instead of asking the hard questions—thereby growing stronger—both groups stumbled. Our great divorce deeply wounded us, and God’s mission enterprise.
Shared agendas must function in associations, too. If not, churches turn away. Giving diminishes. Hurt, unequal partnerships, and arrogant one-upmanship sever fellowship and wound missions. Churches must have their own agendas, of course—each suited to God’s calling and congregational giftedness. However, in associations, our polity of self-governance should draw us toward discovering our calling—and beyond, toward mutual agendas.
The month of May reminds us of our partnerships we call “associations.” But does “association” truly exist for your church? Is your congregation a respectful, willing partner, or just a sour, indifferent divorcee? You and I should take the first steps toward sharing and reconnecting.