When this hits your inbox, Linda and I will be in Dallas (Texas, not Georgia) for the annual General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. By a strange coincidence the Southern Baptist Convention will be meeting there at the same time. But it’s a big city; we’re in different venues; there’ll be some distance between us. It’s not likely many of us will run into each other.

That’s a good thing. Some of us who have been part of CBF from the earliest days have expended a lot of energy distancing ourselves from our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters (mostly brothers) philosophically and theologically. If we were a big enough group for them to pay any attention, I imagine they would do the same thing. My personal motto for over twenty years has been, “I’m Southern and I’m Baptist, but there the resemblance ends.”

You might consider any effort to draw a line of distinction between two Baptist groups as just inside baseball, something of interest to the preachers, but with little impact on anyone else. I disagree.

Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination. They are only outnumbered by Catholics and people without religious affiliation. Their leaders are among the most vocal — and the most quoted — of those the media consider to be “evangelicals.” (See my column from a couple of weeks ago about the misapplication of that term.) I think it is fair to say that when most people hear the word “Baptist,” whatever image or impression comes to mind is derived from the actions and pronouncements of Southern Baptists. When you tell someone you are a Baptist, the chances are very good (especially if you’re white) that they will assume you are a member of an SBC church.

I’m not encouraging anyone to run down any other body of believers. I do think it’s important to remind you of a couple of distinctives about Cooperative Baptists that others might not know if they think you’re something else. (Keep in mind that if you’re a Baptist — Southern or otherwise — you stand under no authority except the Lord, but these points are true for most of us.)

An important distinction concerns the role of women in the life of the church. I have a few female friends who pastor CBF churches. They have gotten used to the shocked look on the faces of people when they tell them they are Baptist pastors. They would not be allowed to serve as senior pastors in SBC churches.

Another distinction is not as cut-and-dried, but is significant nonetheless. For the most part we approach biblical interpretation differently. I’m not asserting that one group, or one minister, takes the Bible more seriously than the other, but ministers in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship try to use the best scholarship available in interpreting the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testament.

I would like to say that another distinction is in the way we treat members of the LGBTQ community. However, since the national CBF organization limits the roles available to some people based on their sexual orientation, that would not be completely accurate. I would simply say that Parkway welcomes everybody. That’s one of the great things about being Baptist. The congregation decides what they want to be.

Perhaps the most important difference is that we are historical Baptists who hold to the tenet that we have no creed but the Bible. We have not attempted to draw up a human set of theological principles to which we insist all of our denominational workers, missionaries, writers, and professors adhere. There is no summary of Baptist beliefs that leaders are compelled to sign if they want to remain employed.

A noted columnist for a major network once wrote a piece on an amusing incident that he witnessed at Parkway. He sent me a draft and asked me if I minded if he took a little “poetic license” and said that we were a Southern Baptist church. I told him that I didn’t mind at all, provided he let me tell people he worked for the Cartoon Network. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but I feel strongly about some of the things I believe in and just as strongly about some of those things I don’t. I wouldn’t want anyone confused about that because they lumped me in with a group with which I didn’t identify. I hope you feel the same way.

The next time you talk to someone about your relationship with our church, try to find a nice way to help them know “we’re not that kind of Baptist.” They’ll probably know what you mean.