Astronauts, Baptists take opposite tracks
February 7 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Astronauts, Baptists take opposite tracks | Friday, Feb. 7, 2003

Friday, Feb. 7, 2003

Astronauts, Baptists take opposite tracks

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew was another tragic blow to America's collective soul. As television commentator Andy Rooney noted, there was nothing good to be said about it, except that, for a while, it brought us together in common grief.

The Columbia's crewmembers were known for their own sense of harmony, seven disparate individuals who were bonded together in common cause.

Their backgrounds were in the military, in medicine, in various branches of applied sciences like aeronautics, engineering, physics and astronomy.

Five were born in America. One was an immigrant. Another was an Israeli citizen.

Five of the astronauts were men. Two were women.

Rick Husband, William McCool, Laurel Clark and David Brown were western Caucasians. Michael Anderson was African-American. Kalpana Chawla was born in India. Ilan Ramon was from Israel.

They were so different - and yet so alike. They loved to fly. They loved science. They loved space. Through years of training together, they came to love each other.

Their willingness to transcend diversity and unite in common cause shines even more brightly than the glittering image of disintegration now burned into our brains.

There are some, no doubt, who will call for an end to the space program, but human space flight is so ingrained in the American psyche and so reflective of our national dreams that it cannot end. Thousands of volunteers would sign up tomorrow for a chance to replace Columbia's brave crew in the astronaut corps, because they know the dream is worth the risk.

The American space program is hardly a Baptist enterprise, but it struck me that while the astronaut corps, once the province of white males only, continues to diversify, Baptist leadership has sadly turned in the opposite direction. Women, once common in leadership roles among N.C. Baptists, are becoming scarce.

Oh, the women are still there - and still as capable as ever - but they are being left on the bench.

Not that long ago, women served as officers of the convention and even as president of the General Board, which acts for the convention between sessions. It was common for the General Board's 21-member Executive Committee to include a healthy representation of women.

The 2003 edition includes only one female voice, however, and she is on the council by virtue of being president of the N.C. Womans Missionary Union.

Moderates, who are most likely to cry "foul" at this turn of events, cannot blame it on conservatives alone.

Not one of the board's councils or committees chose a woman as their chair or president. Not one woman was even nominated for the four "at large" seats on the Executive Committee. When the board met to elect officers on Jan. 28, six men were nominated, but no women. Five were known as conservatives, one moderate. Any woman nominated would almost certainly have been elected.

But you can't get elected if you're not nominated.

Neither can moderates complain about elections for General Board officers. This year's edition of the board seems to have a roughly even split of identifiable moderates and conservatives, along with many who eschew labels.

Leland Kerr, one of the latter, was a consensus candidate for president.

Randy White, known as a vocal conservative, was elected vice-president. Moderates did not nominate a candidate.

Increasingly, signs suggest that many moderates have grown weary and simply given up on having appreciable influence in the Baptist State Convention, so they no longer try.

Why? Aside from having to deal with continuing opposition to Baptist freedom as expressed in the giving plans, moderates were deeply disappointed when convention leaders adopted a policy that prohibits financial assistance to new church starts without the express permission of local associations, even though the convention's churches - not the associations - provide the funds for church planting.

As a result, at least one new church was shut out of the system, and many others lost faith in the system. Feeling disenfranchised, some churches have become increasingly disengaged.

For the past several years, N.C. Baptists of varying theological/political stripes have managed to work together successfully, with most of the leadership load being carried by cooperative conservatives and cooperative moderates who believed in a higher goal than political control.

If moderates now opt for the sidelines rather than the playing field, it will become much easier for less cooperative and more agenda-driven conservatives to march N.C. Baptists down the same exclusivist and doctrinaire path modeled by the national Southern Baptist leadership.

If that happens, the convention will go on, but our distinctive N.C. Baptist heritage could become nothing more than a sparkling vapor trail streaming across the morning sky.

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2/7/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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