On March 1, 2010, Dr. Rob Nash, Global Missions Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Alvin Sugarman, Rabbi Emeritus at The Temple, Atlanta’s oldest synagogue, were featured speakers at a Baptist-Jewish dialogue to benefit the Community Food Bank in Atlanta.
While I expected to learn a few things, broaden my theological horizons and hear a few familiar tunes, I did not expect the deep spiritual churning my soul would undergo.
Nash spoke with honesty and authenticity while describing our Baptist history, beliefs and faith. His transparency was refreshing, but it was Rabbi Sugarman’s deep, soul-gripping compassion that set my heart free.
I was so profoundly moved by my Jewish brother and guest lecturer at McAfee School of Theology that I found a pen and notepad on my table and — as my table guests curiously looked on — began to frantically scribble words, phrases and ideas that flowed simultaneously from Sugarman’s lips and my own heart.
One question he posed for the Baptists still echoes in my mind. It is one I ask myself each day and now pose to my fellow Baptists. This is probably not a direct quote, because I cannot decipher the wild scribbles of my pen. Nevertheless, the words still sting: “You all follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Shouldn’t you bring peace on Earth?”
As the words penetrated the silence in the room, my head dropped to my chest in embarrassment. While Sugarman’s intentions were not to scold or humiliate Baptists, we deserved whatever we were feeling.
No matter what type of Baptist one claims to be — conservative, moderate, liberal or anything in between — we all could benefit from asking ourselves this question before glibly proclaiming our beliefs, doctrines and actions are Christ-like.
All of us have a few self-serving tendencies that may not glow with the “peace on Earth” for which our Savior stands. Baptists have enough trouble being peaceful with one another. How can we expect to share Jesus’ message of peace on Earth?
We worry an awful lot about speaking for God — about whom God is going to save or damn — instead of working to repair the pain and brokenness in the lives of God’s children in the world. Sure, for many Christians their belief in heaven and assurance that others will be joining them there is paramount, but what about the here and now?
What about carrying out the mission of God on Earth? What about the orphan, the widow, the stranger?
What about the mentally ill, the homeless, the pregnant teen, the lonely elderly man, the outcast homosexual, the well-off CEO, the suicidal congregant, the isolated stay-at-home mom, the cancer patient?
What about Nathan, Julie, Erika, Juan, Isabella, Geoffrey, Liz, Mama Bula, Juang Guang, Miko, or any of the individuals you know who hurt and face real pain, who have real names and real identities?
Are we not called to be Jesus’ hands and feet to those we know are suffering? Are we not commissioned to love those who are most unlovely to us as much as those who are so easy to love? Is this not what Christ’s message was all about?
Rabbi Sugarman eloquently wove stories, images and Scripture together into a quilt-like mosaic of who God was and is and is to come. He left us with a beautifully crafted image comparing God’s love to a newborn infant’s gentle grasp reaching out to humanity and softly, tenderly, honestly and hopefully grabbing hold.
Isn’t this how we should touch our world, with a baby’s soft touch?
Published in Associated Baptist Press in March 2010