General Secretary Emeritus A. Roy Medley shares thought-provoking insights regarding his retirement journey so far. In the first of a two-part series he discussed insights from his “close-to-home” experiences. In Part II he offers a global perspective including discoveries from his involvements with the National Council of Churches, the Baptist World Alliance and his thoughts on race relations and Christian-Muslim Dialogue. Click here to view Part I.
Part II: A Scriptural, National and Interreligious Global View
By A. Roy Medley
I began by saying retirement isn’t a one size fits all experience. For me, a retirement composed only of recreation regardless of how breathtaking or exhilarating, or of rocking on the porch would be deadly boring. I still want to contribute to the work of the reign of Christ in the world. And retirement gives me the opportunity to weigh how best to serve – saying no to many things and yes to the few that exercise the gifts and learnings of my years. My ability to do so has been aided beyond measure by being named General Secretary Emeritus. As doors old and new open it validates for others that I work not alone but in concert with this family I love.
Both the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) continue to offer opportunities for me to work in the larger church nationally and globally. Within the NCC I chair the Committee on Bible Translation and Utilization which oversees the stewardship of the RSV and the NRSV Bible translations.
What a huge learning curve this has been for me. I said “yes,” because of the centrality of scripture in the life of the church and believers. Here, we wrestle with both the scholarly task of maintaining the accuracy and language relevancy of the texts, and the practical issues of publishing and dissemination. I cannot tell you how much respect I have for those who have given their lives to the complex task of scripture translation with its inherent challenge as to how to faithfully render translations of scripture from the original languages into other languages and mind maps, including our ever-changing, ever-evolving English language. In like manner, publishers are always grappling with the changing media as we transition from the printed page to digital applications. Their creativity in developing new apps for discipleship, for study, and for devotionals testifies to their commitment to present scripture in ways that connect with a culture that learns differently.
In addition to serving on the BWA executive committee, I was also elected to chair the new Commission on Interfaith Relations. I said, “Yes,” because it builds upon our Baptist commitment to religious liberty and my experience in interfaith dialogue for peace and justice. The membership of our commission represents the global context in which Baptist churches live in relation to other faiths. As we work, our commission is committed to addressing issues of religious conflict in a manner that honors the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to us by our Lord Jesus. We are also committed to praying with the churches in the midst of war and conflict. We are also joining with other commissions in seeking the blessings of religious liberty where it is not now present.
Other doors have opened for ministry particularly in Christian-Muslim relations. In February, I was one of several non-Muslims invited to the gathering in Morocco sponsored by the King of Morocco where the Marrakesh Declaration was finalized.
This declaration was an initiative of Muslim scholars to explore and define the basis for religious liberty in the Quran and the practices of Mohammed. Then in April I was part of a US-Egyptian initiative meeting in Cairo to build bridges of understanding between our two countries.
While there, we met with both the Grand Mufti of Egypt and the Grand Imam of Al-Hazar University who is the spiritual guide for Sunnis worldwide.
Each of these men has been outspoken in condemnation of Al-Qaeda and ISIS and terrorism in the name of Islam. Each spoke longingly and movingly for peace between people of different faiths. Quite unexpectedly, I was asked to return to Egypt in July to serve on a team of three to train 60 young Egyptians who head community service organizations in the principles and practices of interfaith partnership for the common good. I was deeply encouraged by the earnest zeal and commitment of those present to work for an Egyptian society where all are able to live and express their faith without fear.
Part of the commitment of those in the sessions was to create and implement in regional groupings a project or exercise that would further this goal in their area.
These experiences with Muslim leaders in the US, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere, along with the aforementioned community leaders in Egypt, has given me a view of the Muslim community not everyone has the opportunity to experience. From these experiences, I know it is an evil thing to label or insinuate that every Muslim is a jihadist or terrorist to be feared. Scripture’s prohibition against “bearing false witness” remains a foundational ethical obligation in our faith.
The increasingly hateful rhetoric about Muslims flowing from Europe and our own country is repugnant. The efforts to stem violent extremism in the name of Islam are not advanced by violent language against Muslims by those claiming to speak as Christians. Morally, I find it hard to reconcile such to the teachings of Jesus. Practically it strikes me that It only marginalizes those within the Muslim community who hate violence and are our best partners against violence. It also paints Christians as extremists who hate and are unalterably opposed to Muslims. Such violent language neither advances the reign of Christ nor contributes to our security. Our fear of every Japanese individual during World War II caused us to gravely sin against Japanese-Americans. I hope that in trying to identify those who mean us harm today we do not slip into the same error.
And with you, I continue to pray and work for racial justice and reconciliation within our country. Before I retired, our Board of General Ministries at my urging put in place a Commission on Racism and Race-based Violence. Unfortunately, events in our country have continued to prove how critical is its mandate. We have far to go as a country in establishing liberty and justice for all and bridging the chasm of race that still divides.
In this struggle I cannot be neutral. My heritage as a white Southerner compels me to be involved in this moral struggle, for my heritage benefited from and supported the evil of legalized racism. My commitment to Jesus and his church compels me to participate in this cause because in his body I am bound by love to seek justice for all. My heart as the grandparent, like many of you, of a grandson of color compels me to labor for a society that will honor and cherish him rather than fear him. I cannot be complicit in silence. I fail to understand why some see the affirmation “black lives matter” as a denial that all lives matter. In the early church the affirmation that gentile lives matter did not mean that Jewish lives did not matter. The early church embraced both. At the same time because of the prejudice against Gentiles Paul was outspoken about their value to Christ and the body and struggled to win their place as equals in the church.
Can we do less?