July 14, 1999

Moderates must forgive
SBC conservatives, Vestal pleads

___By Marv Knox
___BIRMINGHAM--Moderate Baptists must forgive their political adversaries, who wrestled control of the Southern Baptist Convention from them, Daniel Vestal urged.
___Forgiveness is the first step in "nurturing community" among Christians, said Vestal, staff leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, during the opening session of its 1999 gene
DANIEL VESTAL, staff leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, urged forgiveness as an avenue toward building community.
ral assembly.
___"Community runs contrary to our nature as well as culture's emphasis on independence and individualism," he conceded. "Why community? Jesus inextricably tied love of God to love of others."
___Moderate Southern Baptists founded the fellowship in 1991, after they suffered 12 years of political defeat in the SBC.
___But now, they must focus on nurturing community rather than revisiting conflict, Vestal said, advising forgiveness as the first step in that effort.
___"By God's grace, we as a Fellowship must have a forgiving spirit to those who planned and performed the takeover of the SBC," he stressed. "To those who fired professors and presidents, changed the character of institutions and to this day falsely accuse us of all kinds of practices, we must offer forgiveness.
___"This does not mean we forget what they did or pretend it did not happen. This does not mean we give up our conscience or convictions and keep silent in the face of injustice.
___"But it does mean ... we do not seek revenge, and we genuinely seek the welfare of those who harm us," he said. "We incarnate the mind and heart of Christ, who prayed for those who were crucifying him, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"
___Forgiveness should not only be targeted toward political enemies, Vestal added.
___"Forgiveness starts with those closest to us--family and friends," he said. "Community starts when we zone together in a forgiving and undemanding way."
___Another aspect of a nurturing community is conversation, "talking to each other in a spirit of respect," he noted.
___"It is not lecture, debate or boasting," he said. Rather, conversation is "experiential dialogue in which the goal is ... a sense of presence" and authentic relationship.
___While conversation will not resolve all difference and eliminate all tension, it will provide "a framework for fresh insights for truth," he said.
___Through conversation, Baptists can "cast the moral vision of an inclusive America, the 'beloved community,'" which cannot be achieved otherwise, Vestal insisted.
___The third component of community is music and ritual, he reported.
___"In every place where authentic community occurred, there was music and ritual," he said. He quoted writer Leonard Sweet, "When you're messing with music, you're messing with the building blocks of the universe."
___Music and other acts of worship provide shape and character to community, he said.


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