Baptism: “Infant” or “believer’s” style?

One congregation’s story of attempting faithfulness to the truth in both historic traditions

        When Circle of Mercy Congregation began in 2001, the founding pastors—Joyce Hollyday and Nancy & Ken Sehested—intended affiliation in both the Alliance of Baptists and in the United Church of Christ. This choice required making some kind of decision on the practice of baptism, since the Alliance is faithful to the Radical Reformation's tradition of “believers” baptism, the UCC to Reformed and Catholic tradition of “infant” baptism.

        To prepare for this part of the discussion leading toward the congregation’s bylaws, Ken Sehested wrote the reflection below. The congregation later approved specific language for its policy (posted below, following the initial “policy reflection”).

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In praise of the undazed life

A personal recollection about my Dad, marking the anniversary of his birth in 1922

by Ken Sehested

“Why stand ye gazing . . . ?" (Acts 1:11)

       My Dad wasn’t the least bit athletic; nor were others in his family. So we’re not sure where my sporting interest and coordination came from. I played every kind of ball available, whether organized or sandlot ad hoc. (And, last I heard, I still own my high school’s record in the discus throw.

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Strangers & Aliens

A collection of biblical texts regarding the fate of immigrants

Selected by Ken Sehested

Dispute over the fate of immigrants is at least as old as ancient Israel’s covenant documents,
though the word is commonly translated in English as “strangers” and “aliens.”
Below is a sampling of relevant biblical texts.

Deut. 10:19   You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

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There are more with us than there are with them

Every question about power is a question about God

by Ken Sehested,
Text: 2 Kings 6:8-23

        The text we’ve just read is one of my favorites. The king of Aram—basically what is today modern Syria—is frustrated because his army’s maneuvers seem to be anticipated in every instance by the Israelite army. He’s losing every strategic advantage. Before he thought his generals were simply losing their edge. But the evidence now is overwhelming: He’s got a security breach; a spy in their midst; a mole inside his intelligence operation. Hackers have penetrated his firewalls. Wikileaks is broadcasting his campaigns.

      So the King calls together the joint chiefs of staff. He demands to know the source of this security breach.

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Forgiveness is not forgetting

Charleston's challenge

by Ken Sehested

        In the surge writing following the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the most significant may be Roxane Gay’s “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof.”  (Stacey Patton has a similar piece in The Washington Post, "Black America should stop forgiving white racists.") I think it most significant not because I agree but because it states what so many feel because of a culturally-warped reading of Scripture.

        Gay realizes that this counterfeit forgiveness is a form of cruelty to victims. All she says is true—but not true enough.

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Building a Culture of Peace: An Interfaith Agenda

“New faces: Charlotte’s Growing Interfaith Community” sponsored by Mecklenburg Ministries, Programa Esperanza, Community Relations Committee and International Ministries
Tuesday, 13 November 2001, First United Methodist Church, Charlotte, NC

by Ken Sehested

       In the 19th chapter of the gospel of Luke, in the Christian Newer Testament, is this brief transition narrative as Jesus approaches Jerusalem. He’s near the end of his career and is prepared for a showdown with the ruling elites of the age. And you should know that Luke purposefully arranges this episode immediately before the story of Jesus’ outburst in the Temple, where he turns over the money-changers’ tables, a notorious racket whereby corrupt religious authorities colluded with unscrupulous entrepreneurs to exploit poor and working-class people during their expression of religious fidelity and devotion.

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Speak out clearly, pay up personally

The purpose, promise and peril of interfaith engagement

by Ken Sehested, Lynn Gottlieb, and Rabia Terri Harris

        In the early weeks of 2011, during the Arab Spring uprising, Egyptian blogger Nevine Zaki posted a photograph from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. It showed a group of people bowing in the traditional style of Muslim prayer, surrounded by other people standing hand-in-hand, facing outward, as a wall of protection against hostile pro-government forces. Zaki affixed this caption: “A picture I took yesterday of Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers.”

        Similar scenes—some ancient, some as recent as yesterday’s newspaper—have been arranged in a host of ways with a variety of religious identities. No religious tradition can claim a monopoly on compassionate courage. And yet such snapshots remain rare.

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“Stingy spenders hold back growth”

Is it a trivial matter to complain about such screamer headlines?

by Ken Sehested

       “Stingy spenders hold back growth.” So reads the title of a recent USA Today business section story reporting that “penny-pinching consumers tainted” otherwise robust economic indicators.

        Is it a trivial matter to complain about such screamer headlines?

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There is a new creation

The Apostle Paul’s vision of the ministry of reconciliation

by Ken Sehested

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them,
and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19

        Few things are more uniform among Baptist churches the world over than Sunday school. Many are surprised to learn that this organized form of Bible study began in Britain in the 18th century. And its specific purpose was to provide literacy training for poor children. It was a ministry of reconciliation in an age when industrialization was deepening the chasm of poverty.

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Are the poor “always with us”?

Brief commentary on a fatalistic reading of an ancient text

       My hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times, recently ran an editorial arguing that poverty is not inevitable. The following was my response, printed as a letter to the editor.

        Wednesday’s AC-T editorial (“The cycle of poverty is not inevitable”) offers a compelling rebuttal to the notion that poverty is preordained. One reference, however, repeats a popular misreading of ancient authority: “Many who are not poor accept the biblical maxim that the poor will always be with us. . . .”

        The “maxim” in Deuteronomy 15:11 (referenced by Jesus, in three of the Gospels, for other purposes) is the premise for this conclusion: “I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy.’”

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