South to North: More Things Southern Baptists Can Learn From Canadian Baptists

I am so pleased to welcome Dr. Melody Maxwell to the Anxious Bench today. Melody’s post today will add to our growing conversation on the Anxious Bench about how evangelicalism, at least in some ways, has evolved differently in Canada–first Chris Gehrz’s post on Hockey and the Future of Evangelicalism and second my recent post on Canadian Baptists. Melody is an Associate Professor of Church History at Acadia Divinity School in Nova Scotia. Acadia is the official seminary for the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. Also, I have posted more pictures from our British Columbia Vacation. Unfortunately I haven’t been to the Atlantic Coast of Canada, so you will have to settle for the Pacific side 🙂

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Tennessee. Today I live and work among Baptists in Nova Scotia. So I couldn’t help but read with interest Beth Allison Barr’s post “What Southern Baptists Can Learn from Canadian Baptists.”

I moved north last summer. Since then, I have watched SBC goings on from afar while familiarizing myself with Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada (one of the four main Baptist group across Canada). In both places, Baptists embrace the Bible, church autonomy, and believer’s baptism. Yet Canadian Baptists are different from Southern Baptists in key ways.

Like Beth, I believe the SBC could learn a lot from their sisters and brothers to the north:

Ordination is a significant process. In recent days the SBC has come under fire because of sexual abuse by ministers. Critics have pointed out that no database of abusers (or ministers) exists. In fact, ordination by a Southern Baptist church is a simple process with no requirements for training or background checks.

Here the SBC could learn from Canadian Baptists, who carefully credential ministers and ensure they follow ethical guidelines to remain in good standing. I am currently involved in a multi-year process toward ordination. Is it more work than I would have had to be ordained in the South? Sure thing. Am I glad to be part of a denomination that takes ordained ministry seriously? Absolutely.

Baptists can be both evangelical and egalitarian. Since the mid-1980s, the SBC has taken a firmly complementarian stance. The 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message declares that wives should “graciously submit” to their husbands and that only men can serve as senior pastors. Many Southern Baptists are unaware that other Baptist groups take a different stance.

In fact, many Baptists around the world are Bible-believing evangelicals who also understand that God can call both women and men to ministry. When I moved to Nova Scotia, I found that multiple Baptist churches here have female ministers. Instead of arguing about what women can and cannot do, Canadian Baptists simply allow them to serve God. The church is better for it!

Christians are salt and light. In the South, it seems like most everyone attends church, or at least grew up in it. As a result, politicians sometimes seek power by allying themselves with religious groups. This reality has been a flashpoint among Southern Baptists, especially in the Trump era.
This type of cultural Christianity is not the case in Canada. Here, following Christ is a minority position. I can no longer assume that everyone from my hairdresser to my landlord claims Christianity. Instead, Canadian believers make a conscious decision to be a faithful witness amidst a skeptical society. They are also less identified with a specific political party. As a result, their focus is on following Christ rather than retaining cultural influence. This isn’t just refreshing; it’s also biblical.

Diversity enriches the church. It’s no secret that the SBC has a rocky history of race relations. Conversations have recently arisen about its slaveholding founders and racial equity within the denomination today. I believe Southern Baptists can learn from their brothers and sisters in Canada, one of the most diverse countries in the world.

Every Sunday I worship alongside believers from Hong Kong, Nigeria, the UK, India, the Bahamas, Indonesia, and Ireland, among other countries. To most Canadians, this diversity isn’t threatening—it’s normal. Several churches in my own area have raised funds to bring Syrian refugees to the country and continue to support them once they arrive. Canadian Baptists understand that these immigrants enrich the church and community. I am an immigrant too and have been embraced in my new home with open arms. Thank you, Canadian Baptists, for allowing me and many others to be an integral part of your community.

Baptists in Canada aren’t perfect, but their situation offers valuable insights to their sisters and brothers south of the border. Southern Baptists, are you paying attention?

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