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Twenty-first Summer Conference of Baptist Peace Fellowship Looks at "Becoming the Beloved Community", Worship Held at Historic Ebenezer Church


July 12, 2006 | bpfna

Atlanta, GA, July 12 -- The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA) summer conference began Monday with some 330 people converging on the Oglethorpe University campus in Atlanta, GA. The conference, affectionately known as "peace camp," started with a plenary session on Monday evening. The keynote speaker was longtime peacemaker and civil rights leader C. T. Vivian, who presented an interpretation of the conference theme, based on the "Beloved Community" vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Vivian's address was titled "Becoming the Beloved Community: How Do We Live King's Vision NOW?"

Atlanta's Providence Missionary Baptist Church Choir provided the music for the evening.

Raphael Warnock, the newly installed pastor of Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church (the church in which Dr. King grew up), presented BPFNA's Bill Moore Lifetime in Peacemaking award to US Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA). Dr. Warnock described how Rep. Lee was the lone voice in Congress against giving US President George Bush "a blank check" to launch a war shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. He described her as a "tough-minded and tender-hearted patriot, who knows that patriotism is sometimes standing up to your country."

Rep. Lee, in her acceptance address, discussed a new effort in Congress to create a cabinet-level Department of Peace. The department would include the establishment of a Peace Academy, modeled after the U. S. military academies, in which students would spend four years studying international nonviolent conflict transformation. Lee said that the country, by sponsoring legislation that would create this department, would be doing the best for "the least of these," referring to Jesus' admonition to provide for the basic needs of all people.

Rep. Lee is a member of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, CA, whose pastor, J. Alfred Smith, Sr., is the conference preacher. Dr. Smith delivered his first sermon of the week, "Angry Religion and a Peaceful God," on Tuesday evening at the new Horizon sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church. His theme for the week is "The Ministry of Peacemaking." Gary Percesepe, BPFNA Coordinating Director, presented a Bill Moore Lifetime in Peacemaking Award to Dr. Smith earlier in the service.

Michael Lerner is also a conference leader, speaking during evening services and leading workshops. Rabbi Lerner leads the Tikkun community, a progressive Jewish congregation in Berkeley, CA. He founded and edits Tikkun magazine. He has written a number of books dealing with issues of spiritual progressives. The most recent is the highly acclaimed and provocative The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back from the Religious Right.

Rabbi Lerner spoke, on Monday evening, of a new spiritual consciousness, in which one looks at all people in the world "as fundamentally valuable just because they are created in the image of God." He is part of the new Network of Spiritual Progressives, who are endeavoring to persuade legislators to end hunger, homeless, poverty, and inadequate education. One of the initiatives of the group is the introduction of a Social Responsibility Amendment to the US Congress, which would call for responsibility to the poor from the larger corporations.

George Williamson--a founding BPFNA member, writer, and retired Baptist pastor--is the conference storyteller. Four sequential stories, about his involvement in the lunch counter sit-ins of the early 1960s, fall under the title "Martin and Me: Confessions of a Born Again Whiteboy."

Prominent ethicist Peter Paris, a native of Nova Scotia, is presenting daily studies under the theme "Christian Responses to Violence in All Its Varying Forms." Dr. Paris is professor of Christian Social Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, NJ.

Theatrical dialogue with Lynn Gottlieb and Hector Aristizábal will also highlight the week's morning activities. Rabbi Gottlieb, one of the first women to become a rabbi, is a co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk and leads interfaith delegations to Israel/Palestine. Hector Aristizábal, exiled from his native Colombia, employs theatrical skills in psychotherapy. He co-founded the Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Los Angeles, CA.

Other conference activities include afternoon Civil Rights tours, a plethora of workshops, and a roundtable strategy session for BPFNA's newest initiative, Churches Supporting Churches (CSC.) The project, which was recently adopted by the National Council of Churches, is a network of partnerships between New Orleans churches that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina and churches in other areas of the continent.

During the Katrina Roundtable, a third Bill Moore Lifetime in Peacemaking award will be presented to C. T. Vivian, one of the founders of Churches Supporting Churches. Bill Moore, who died last October, was a longtime member of the BPFNA and a tireless peacemaker in Owensboro, Kentucky--where he lived--and far beyond. BPFNA leaders began this year during the summer conference to present a special award named for him. --story by Katie Cook

Audio from Atlanta: Thom Butler's PeacePodcasts
(click for a page listing available audio files)

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