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Three Sentences on Baptist Freedom
Walter B. Shurden
During the SBC controversy, while I was still on the faculty at Southern Seminary, a graduate student of mine, knowing how grieved I was about the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, met me in Norton Hall and said, "I dreamed about you last night." He said, "I dreamed your old home place out in the country in Mississippi burned down, and we got there too late to save it; we could do nothing but watch it burn to the ground."
The SBC was my home for over three decades, but, for me, it burned to the ground, no doubt about it. The CBF is my contemporary home, no question about it. CBF is where Kay and I give our money and energy. But the ABC is my historical home, and there is no question about that either.
Who you are in the Baptist family is a matter of enormous joy to many of us who look at you from the outside. And I am especially glad to be honored to speak to a group at my historical home who has hurled the flag of Baptist freedom atop your masthead. So many thanks for the invitation.
My wife and I have been members of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, GA for almost a quarter of a century. It, too, is very much “home” to us. Not long after we became members, I became interim pastor of our church, an interim that lasted over a year.
During that year, I led a series of Wednesday night sessions entitled “The Faith of our Friends.” I invited individual clergy from other denominations each Wednesday evening to come to our church at the top of Poplar and tell us about their group and what makes them tick. So I invited the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, all those churches in which many of our members had grandchildren. I don’t know about the ABC, but one of the major contributions Baptists in my part of the world have made to the Kingdom is the way we have given up some of our best and brightest to other Christian groups.
I also invited the Catholic priest who worked across the street at the beautiful St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. His name is John Cuddy. John Cuddy is one of those sweet, post Vatican II priests who took John XXIII seriously. Unlike some other Catholics, John Cuddy never tried to put the toothpaste back in the tube that Vatican II squirted out. He was and, though retired, he remains the most beloved minister of our town. Our Baptist people certainly appreciated his irenic spirit on that Wednesday night.
After he finished his brief presentation, Father Cuddy engaged the congregation in some Q and A. Eventually I was wrapping things up and I said, “Father Cuddy, we have asked you about the Catholics tonight, but in closing I want to ask you about the Baptists. What is the very first thing that comes to your mind when you think about the Baptists?” He did not blink. He did not think. “Freedom,” he said, tersely. I turned to the congregation and said, “Here is a Catholic priest who pays allegiance to the Pope, and he knows more about us than some of our Baptist kinfolk know.”