(The opinions shared here are Zac and Mark's who, other than attending the camp mentioned in the article, are not affiliated with Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America).
Over the Forth of July week, we traveled to Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virgina to attend Peace Camp. Think of it as a multi-generational hippie convention. OK, now throw that idea completely out of your head. While that's the image “Peace Camp” may evoke, it's not what it is about. (OK, ok... a few hippies were there, but still, you are missing the point).
Peace Camp is actually the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America's (BPFNA) Summer Conference. BPFNA is an international organization focused on building “a culture of peace rooted in justice.” We are talking solid, intellectual pursuit of peacemaking rooted in biblical perspectives and pursued with a passion for all people. Hmmmm. Can't help but wonder where that idea came from? Sort of reminds us of that Jesus fellow.
So, anyway, we were having a wonderful and informative time at the Summer Conference, making connections and expanding community with others who are interested and invested in peacemaking when we find out that there is a mole in our midst! Egad! The conference was all a tizzy (yes, we said “all a tizzy”) and we weren't sure if we should even continue on. Ok, not really, but that'd make this curious case much more curious wouldn't it? But alas, we actually were just intrigued and not much more than that. Frankly, most of those attending Peace Camp probably didn't know about it and even more people probably weren't even effected by it.
As for the rest of us, the game was afoot! Our magical mystery mole was providing a welcomed distraction from the dead space between lunch and the next presentation! Oh, thank you Mole Man! We learned that he was blogging for the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD) and a quick investigation of the web site gave us a name: “Vinnie 'The Mole' Malone” (OK, again, not really, but how cool would that have been?). His name was Bart Gingerich. Yeah, Bart Gingerich, really.
A quick search of conference registrants also told us that he was not paying to take part in the conference. By our superhuman powers of deduction, we reasoned that he therefor would not have a name tag. The mole was practically in our clutches! Then we realized that we had registered for the conference and even we weren't wearing our name tags. Drat. Foiled again.
Upon further investigation, including speaking with Irving Hall whose presentation was critiqued by Mr. Gingerich, we also learned that IRD was, unfortunately, doing a poor job. With articles like “Anti-Zionism Escalates at BPFNA Conference” and “Liberal Baptists Displace Christ for “Peace” Activism” their coverage not only mislead (we had to being wondering if this was not at least somewhat intentional) and was full of inaccuracies, but it also didn't adequately engage BPFNA. (Specifics on these misrepresentations have been posted by Irving Hall at notinkansas.us)
Mark Tooley, the President of IRD, says of BPFNA, “This Baptist Peace Fellowship surely represents very few mainstream Baptists. But its conference accurately showcased the current obsessions of today’s Religious Left elites.” Tooley also states, “Seemingly, Christ takes a back seat at this event, where the Savior was overshadowed by political advocacy or equated with political liberators like Gandhi.” Tooley’s statements are highly unoriginal and demonstrate a lack of concern for positive collaboration. Had his hidden away reporter actually engaged the community rather than slipping in and out of the conference in secret, he would have found a great diversity of people and perspectives all centering on the biblical mandate for peacemaking. But instead he unartfully wields a large brush, painting with falsehoods and vast generalities. It is unfortunate to say the least.
Sure, Tooley and IRD do what many Right-Wing organizations do – distort and defame. It’s an easy act, and allows for the demonization of your opponent. However, there is no hope for the advancement of relations, let alone the advancement of peace, with that kind of games play. We even made contact with IRD during the conference to invite Mr. Gingerich into conversation in hopes of correcting some of this misrepresentation and to advance our mutual understanding of each other. While they positively acknowledge our request, ultimately, Bart continued hiding behind a computer and avoiding authentic conversation that might have allowed a demonstration of the power of collaboration.
Peace will only happen if we can work together, across the aisle. We may be either extraordinarily crazy or remarkably hopeful, but we believe conservatives and liberals can inch closer together. However, if IRD believes so strongly in their message that they cannot open themselves to conversation then so be it. We are left with yet another example of the ignorance and unwillingness that plagues our common humanity.
So, we close this curious case of the misinformed mole with this thought: genuine relationships and authentic conversations are important in securing the peace to which the Prince of Peace call us all. IRD and Mr. Gingerich demonstrated over and over again a clear lack of interest in authenticity and conversation. It is safe to assume that peace is not truly central in their pursuit. The sometimes lighthearted nature of this article is an acknowledgment of that reality. While we would love the opportunity to engage in a respectful discussion, we recognize that is not their desire. So, we simply ask, in the name of truth, they retract their misrepresentations and apologize to those whom they have misrepresented.
(Zac Bailes blogs for Those Crazy Liberals and Conservatives and Mark Sandlin blogs for The God Article).