As fly home from the ABC Biennial I am still in awe of the events that have unfolded over the last few days. Having been in the belly of the SBC beast just a few short weeks ago I should have known that we were in a radical shift in the Baptist world as it relates to the LGBTQ community, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened at the Biennial and the long-term implications that this has for us as the historic Baptist core.
Since you were not there I want to share this with you so you know what happened.
I had been in conversation with Andover Newton Theological School for some time about how they could host us (and us them at the BPFNA Summer gathering) at various events this summer. They had arranged a space at the Biennial large enough to have several tables and chairs, their peace pole, and a feature of Alumni who were doing great things in the world. At the top of their poster was a picture of ME! This allowed them to host AWAB in a more passive way, one which we both felt would be tolerated by the leadership of the ABC.
When Jill McCrory, the AWAB Board Chair, and I got to San Juan we went to the exhibit hall floor to see what the situation was. The BPFNA had reprinted some of our jointly-published booklets called, “Jesus Love Me, This I Know” and they agreed to host some display copies of our Spanish language and complimentary resources at their table. ANTS had a large space but the Alumni table was already filled with things and they felt a bit uncertain about having our brochures on display due to the ABC policy against displaying other organization’s materials. However, we did agree that when President Nick Carter arrived the following day we would get his permission to put all of our stuff out in the ANTS booth and then see what the response would be. A little civil disobedience of sorts.
Now Jill, a former SBC’er with no connection to the ABC history of the Biennial booth, and I began thinking about how this action might work. She, the life-long DC’er with a brilliant strategic and political mind, said “Let’s go ask if we can have a booth so we know what NO we are responding to.” So off we went. She, wearing her name tag with AWAB clearly visible and me, with my AWAB hat on my head.
This next part was all very simple. We went to the General Secretaries office and asked if we could still rent a booth and the very nice woman in the office sent us to see Gary, the Exhibit Hall manager. The Gary then took us in to see the space we requested (there was a nice empty spot right next to the ANTS booth). We gave him the AWAB credit card and he put it through. We hung the sign and I left to retrieve the AWAB stuff we had set up in our hotel room/Hospitality Suite.
When I came back the banner was down but Jill was beaming! While I was away Gary had said we should have a sign like anyone else and he asked Jill for her card. When he saw who she was he realized what he had just done. Since he had taken our money he had to take this news all the way up to Roy Medley who offered the following compromise - we could stay if we took our banner down.
Now, I know there are those who feel that this is an affront, but for Jill and I this was an easy compromise because it is our information that we want to share and, banner or no, we were now going to be able to do that!
As soon as I could I began posting pictures and notes on Facebook about this momentous occasion! I wanted to let the world know that AWAB was on the floor of the ABC Biennial Exhibit Hall and that the sky had not come down! It was an exhilarating moment, to say the least!
What followed was a day and a half of people coming by to see for themselves the reality of this moment. It was a moment of realizing that our Spanish language resources were wanted and needed by people who may only be allowed one perspective. It was also a moment, followed by the NY Marriage Equality law passing, when so many of us were simply in awe of God’s continuing bent toward justice and love.
What followed the next day was as boring as staffing a booth for 9 hours and as miraculous as the young Puerto Rican man who now feels free to come out and be himself. It was as typical as our feet being tired after a long day on concrete and as surprising as Executive Ministersand National Staff coming by and welcoming us to the hall. Gary circled the booth every hour or so just to make sure nothing bad had happened and with every visit he became a stronger and stronger ally.
I did take the chance to speak with Roy Medley after the first business session because I wanted him to know that we knew he was in a spot. But as Jill said, we had to do what we had to do in the same way Roy had to do what he had to do. It is all political and it is all God’s Providence at work!
I left San Juan, my camera filled with testimony from people who came by the booth. It was the raw testimony of asking what they were feeling knowing AWAB was on the Exhibit Hall floor again after so many long years. As I finished I realized these clips are less about AWABand more about the ABC and the passion many of us have for the ABC being an inclusive body of Baptists.
I left Puerto Rico with a few less things in my suitcase and a little more hope for a future when all people will be one under the banner of love and acceptance because of the love and acceptance that was offered to us in Christ Jesus. May God’s welcome continue to inspire us all.By AWAB Executive Director, Robin Lunn