Affinity is the “natural liking” for someone, or a connection based on “similarity of characteristics.” Therefore, affinity shapes many of our relationships, individually and corporately.

Often, this is true of faith relationships. We are drawn to those who share our priorities and passions more so than all who bear the same denominational label. We simply engage in conversations, experience learning and share ministry with those with whom we find commonality.

Many of us have experienced and observed this shifting beyond exclusive denominational boundaries over recent decades. Perhaps it has happened for some without awareness or particular intent.

However, it is certainly true that many more-moderate Baptists who used to cooperate heavily, if not exclusively, with other Baptists now relate more broadly. It is the simple experience of being drawn into relationships of affinity.

When in the pastorate, Bill Wilson, now director of the Center for Healthy Churches, made a casual comment that stuck with me. He observed that Habitat for Humanity “gave Baptists permission” to engage more freely in ecumenical ministry. And it felt good.

By the way, Bill is as active as ever in Baptist life and his organization has close Baptist ties. Yet Bill and his consultants work beyond exclusive Baptist boundaries — wherever shared values and other affinity take them. Many Baptist-rooted organizations and institutions take a similar approach.

Fundamentalist exclusion by some Baptist associations and conventions pushed many more-moderate Baptist congregations and individuals out of their denominational cocoons and, remarkably, into healthier, ecumenical relationships where differences were respected while allowing room for collaboration around common ministry priorities tied to community needs.

It is a simple fact that many Baptists are now more ecumenical than before. This is not the result of a weakening of commitment to historic Baptist principles but a matter of discovered affinity with those of other denominational brands.

Thumbing through past issues of this news journal reveals that many of the features of interest to our readers relate to Baptists and non-Baptists without a great deal of distinction. It’s not like articles about Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King Jr., and Will Campbell are of interest to Baptists only — or that ones related to Barbara Brown Taylor, John Claypool, Tom Long, Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Webber are somehow outsider information.

It’s a matter of affinity, not exclusion or compromising one’s own unique faith tradition. That is, we are more apt to engage with those who share common understandings of the faith and similar practices rather than those who simply bear the same label.

For example, many Baptists, including me, feel much closer to some Christians of other denominational traditions than many fellow Baptists whose beliefs and practices seem alien to us. Therefore, we are attracted to those with similarities other than mere denominational identity.

Such affinity should not be misconstrued as a weakening of one’s strongly-held identity or deep commitment to that which historically makes Baptists distinctive.

However, firm Baptist commitments to religious liberty, freedom of conscience and biblical faith don’t preclude engagement outside of denominational life. In fact, such widely appreciated commitments often are what infuse a wider embrace.

Often my friend and mentor Bill Neal refers to the “Baptist diaspora” that — for various reasons — has former Baptists now engaged in nondenominational or other-denominational congregations and conventions. For most of these once-Baptists, they left a particular Baptist home but not all of their Baptist identity and connections.

Affinity is a really good word, and one that well describes how many Christians, individually and corporately, relate to others. This understanding, hopefully, informs the rebranding of Baptists Today — once the more-exclusively focused SBC Today — as Nurturing Faith Journal.

On one important level, it is simply a consolidation of a good brand name we use on a variety of resources: Bible studies, books and experiences. But it is also an acknowledgment of the good effects of affinity.

Nurturing Faith Journal has a distinctive Baptist identity. But perhaps — thanks to the Baptist diaspora and others who might value our collaborative nature — it will not feel exclusive.

These changes are not a weakening of our Baptist focus and identity, but a widening that matches the relationships of faith and practice that already exist. Hence Nurturing Faith is for Baptists — and beyond. NFJ

pierce_johnny15_optBy John D. Pierce