A clergy colleague of mine chafed at some of the offerings of the weekend--such as a skit featuring a Native American woman who cloyingly proclaimed: "I have something more important than a tepee--I have Jesus."

Others might not appreciate the overtly pious tone offered by many participants. "So what is your witness?" was the first words out of one well-meaning woman to a seminarian who was still recovering from a particularly conservative Southern Baptist upbringing. The seminarian said, "It was the first thing in the morning, and I just froze thinking, 'What does that exactly mean, and what do I have to prove?'"

Of course, on the other side of the coin, the ABC's more evangelical congregations were confronted at one point with a choir made up of members of pro-gay "Welcoming and Affirming" churches.At these conventions, there is something to make everyone uncomfortable. However, this discord-and-unity dance is true for any family and political structure. One of the main statements passed over the weekend called upon American Baptists "to strive to maintain unity and participation in mission in spite of our disagreements...." The Presbyterian Church (USA), which also met in June, passed a similar statement, which helped them deal with their differing opinions.

In some ways, these disagreements make for an interesting convention and association. One of the sad things about the evolution of the Democratic and Republican conventions has been how mandatory uniformity of opinion has conquered the combative conventions of the past. Entire conventions scripted to show one unified vision end up being dull and nothing more than infomercials.

Sure, denominational conventions entail conflict, sure they are at times wordy, and for some of us the piety can get tedious. But we stay together like a family stays together, because we share a common history and, while we may often lose sight of it, a common purpose--spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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