by Andrew Gardner, author of Reimagining Zion: A History of the Alliance of Baptists
The Alliance of Baptists is a group of progressive Baptists and Christians committed to enacting God’s love and justice in the world. Founded in 1987, the Alliance of Baptists formed in order to provide a space for individuals who were tired of political infighting within the Southern Baptist Convention. As the organization’s story unfolded, the Alliance would come to provide a theological home for Baptists and Christians from across many denominational groups.
The founding covenant, which guided our organization for over 30 years, committed the organization to the freedom of the individual, the freedom of the local church, the larger body of Christ, servant leadership, social and economic justice, and the principle of a free church in a free state.
In 2018, work began to reenvision the covenant to reflect our commitment to a God who is on the move. In April of 2021, the Alliance adopted a new covenant, the roots of which are the same commitments of the founding document but also speaks to the moral and social issues of our time.
Throughout the Alliance’s history, the organization has been outspoken on a number of state, national, and global justice-issues. In 1990, the Alliance of Baptists offered the first apology from any Baptist organization in the South for the sins of slavery. Since this apology, the organization has proclaimed their support for issues including marriage equality, #Blacklivesmatter, ecological justice, gun-control reform, justice in Palestine, food justice, interfaith dialogue, and more.
As an organization, the Alliance strives to continually reimagine the possibilities of what Baptist life might look like in the 21st century. Rather than utilizing a top-down leadership model, in the early 2000s the Alliance staff moved to a model of shared leadership. Instead of sending missionaries to preach the Gospel abroad, the Alliance cultivated ministry partnerships to support native Christian communities in places like Cuba, Zimbabwe, Brazil, The Republic of Georgia, and Sri Lanka. Through their commitment to partnership, the Alliance also supports the work of numerous congregations and ministry groups across the United States.
From Alliance founder, Mahan Siler:
The Alliance of Baptists was catapulted from a resounding “Yes!”
On the surface it looked otherwise. At the time, in 1987, we were Southern Baptists declaring “No” to the turns toward biblical inerrancy, exclusive male clergy, autocratic pastoral leadership, narrow denominationalism, piety without social and economic justice, and the violation of state/church separate freedoms. Our covenant was a counter “Yes” to each turn.
But in retrospect, there was a deeper Yes at work. We were expressing Yes to our sense of God’s movement through the church in our day. This Yes of discernment has been the continuity amid the discontinuities. Immediately this Yes took on new manifestations—theological education, mission as partnership, interracial and interfaith relationships, welcoming differing sexual identities, ecological justice and Alliance structure as partnership.
The forms of Yes vary; the courage to risk our discernments of Yes remain . . . and will remain.