By Alan Bean
This story by Bob Allen of the Associated Baptist Press should excite Baptists who care about justice. The fact that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship nominated a woman for the position of Executive Coordinator is itself reason for rejoicing. A woman like Suzii Paynter who possesses an unusually deep passion for justice is more than we had any right to hope for.
A few months ago, I wrote an opinion piece called “A Candle in Search of Darkness” after attending a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship gathering. “Every good story needs an antagonist, a villain,” I wrote, “and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship story doesn’t have one.”
Formed in the wake of the infamous fundamentalist takeover of Southern Baptist institutions, the CBF seemed determined to recreate a world in which “moderate”, politically savvy preachers could nuance their way to professional security. As a result, I said, Cooperative Baptists shy away from anything potentially controversial, including the immigration and criminal justice systems.
Paynter is smart enough to avoid my candle critique (that’s the role of independent voices like mine), but she clearly wants to lead the CBF upward to holy ground.
Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator nominee for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, sees advocacy on social-justice issues as consistent with the Fellowship’s longstanding dedication to ministry to the “least of these.”
By Bob Allen
A woman nominated to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s top leadership post says her extensive background in lobbying and public policy would bolster the Fellowship’s holistic missions strategy of targeting critical needs among the world’s most neglected peoples.
Suzii Paynter, director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, said in a Skype interview on EthicsDaily.com that if elected Feb. 21-22 by the CBF Coordinating Council, one of her primary interests as the group’s next executive coordinator would be “the intersection between our missions and justice.”
“In looking at our missions, we have eight communities of missions in CBF — poverty and transformation missions, disaster recovery, missions with internationals, economic development, missions around economic development, missions education, medical care — and in all these areas we have the opportunity not to just do hands-on missions on the ground but to also use the responses of our congregations and the interests of our many lay people to advance policies and to advance advocacy for issues that affect all of those areas,” she said.
As head of the ethics agency of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Paynter has been assigned to speak on a wide variety of ethical issues including citizenship and public policy, family life, religious liberty, ethnic reconciliation, faith in the workplace, hunger and poverty, substance abuse, environmental justice and creation care, war and peace, gambling, bioethics and more.
She was Baptist representative for an international delegation to Africa sponsored by the Gates Foundation and Bread for the World and has worked on national think tanks including the Council on Foreign Relations and Institute for American Values.
She has been recognized for her work on issues including immigration ministries, environmental stewardship, predatory gambling, underage drinking and prison reform. She has established interfaith and ecumenical relationships around common-good initiatives that she hopes to keep intact in the years to come.
Paynter cited Together for Hope, the Fellowship’s 12-year-old rural poverty initiative focused on breaking cycles of economic disparity in 20 of the nation’s poorest counties, as “a great example of places all over the country where we can match the love and experience we’ve had in missions with an advocacy word and voice on the national level.”