Prayers4Peace: Remembering Rev. C. Welton Gaddy: Pastor and Leader of Tolerance and Acceptance  

Remembering Rev. C. Welton Gaddy: Pastor and Leader of Tolerance and Acceptance 

By: Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director of CMEP

Last year around this time, as I listened to the daily summary of world news as is my morning routine on National Public Radio (NPR), I heard a short account about the death of Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, committed pastor, advocate for human rights and justice, and member of the Alliance of Baptists. Since the Alliance of Baptists has been a longtime member and supporter of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), the report piqued my interest, and I wanted to learn more.

Staring out in the Southern Baptist Convention, the New York Times obituary of Rev. D. Welton Gaddy describes him as becoming a “voice for tolerance and diversity.” His graduate education included a master’s and doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Having previously been considered a “rising star” among the Southern Baptists, as the denomination grew more aggressively conservative, he eventually left and increasingly became a loud voice for causes considered far outside the scope of the conservative fundamentalist denomination. 

Longtime president serving 17 years with the Interfaith Alliance, Rev. C. Welton Gaddy committed his life to numerous issues of justice and equality, including ardent advocacy for the separation of church and state, working against anti-Muslim bigotry and other forms of hatred against religious minorities, challenging anti-Semitism, and promoting marriage equality and equal rights from a faith perspective. 

Gaddy was a loud voice for interfaith tolerance and acceptance. On an anniversary of the September 11th attacks, he pled for interreligious understanding in an op-ed for the Washington Post calling for Americans to stand against anti-Muslim hatred; he said, “Violence and hatred cannot be the basis for dialogue between the U.S. and the Arab world.” Instead, he encouraged, “we will do well to intensify our efforts to promote respect for religious freedom and strive for interreligious understanding every day.”

Rev. Gaddy pastored a few Southern Baptist churches in the 1970s and 80s, and then he became the campus minister at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., in 1983. After that, he became the senior pastor at Northminster, a church affiliated with the progressive Alliance of Baptists, which, according to the New York Times, ‘proclaims to people visiting its website that ‘every part of you is welcome here – your gender, your race, your politics, your theology, your sexuality.’”

The author of more than 20 books, Gaddy’s interests and advocacy extended beyond religious freedom to challenging all forms of bigotry and hatred arising from what the Interfaith Alliance identifies as “religious and political extremism infiltrating American politics.” While at the Interfaith Alliance, Gaddy also hosted a weekly radio program called “State of Belief,” broadcast nationally. 

Examples of Gaddy’s opposition and prophetic engagement with the Baptists include his outspokenness about women and the Middle East. I felt personally moved to learn that in 1998, when the Southern Baptist Convention amended its beliefs to include the idea that “a wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband,” Dr. Gaddy condemned the move. The NYT quotes him as saying, “I think it’s unhealthy for the family… it’s bad relationally. I think it’s heresy theologically.” 

On his radio show, Rev. Gaddy read his open letter to President Bush “chastising him for meeting with Jim Dobson and other Religious Right leaders about foreign policy issues,” believing the meeting was solely for garnering support among conservative Christians for the war in Iraq. He continued and talked about how the combination of “religion and politics” is particularly “dangerous” because of interpretations of the Apocalypse and its relationship to conflicts in the Middle East. Interestingly, given his criticism of conservative Christian engagement in the political sphere, he did not seem to comment publicly (although I did not listen to any of his radio show episodes) about the allegiances between far-right Christians in the United States and the State of Israel. 

I am grateful to have read and learned about the life and legacy of Rev. C. Welton Gaddy. I believe we all can learn about his warnings of the messy enmeshment between the church and state when the constitutionally intended separation is muddied and not respected. While most people assert the separation of church and state is not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment certainly implies the separation, in addition to protecting the freedom of religion. 

In closing, I asked CMEP’s board representative for the Alliance of Baptists, Katherine Metres Akbar, about her experiences with the denomination with which Rev. Gaddy had such close ties. She sent these words, “The Alliance of Baptists warmly welcomed me, a Catholic, and my husband, a secular Muslim, into their very friendly community. They are people focused on racial justice, inclusion of all (including the LGBTQ+ community), and international human rights, including Palestinian rights, so I am proud to be associated with them.” 

Join me (feel free to share your prayers in the comments below) in praying for interfaith tolerance and acceptance as modeled by Rev. C. Welton Gaddy and the Alliance of Baptists:

God of the Universe 
God of Christians 
God of Jews
God of Muslims 
God of All People 
We ask that you come and bring your peace. 
Teach us to be tolerant, accepting, and loving to all people in the world. The Hebrew Bible teaches us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Just as Jesus taught us to also “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Teach us to follow that example. 
We pray according to our own traditions, as I pray in the name of Christ Jesus. 

About Author: Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace and an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). Cannon holds an MDiv from North Park Theological Seminary, an MBA from North Park University’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management, and an MA in bioethics from Trinity International University. She received her first doctorate in American History with a minor in Middle Eastern studies at the University of California (Davis) focusing on the history of the American Protestant church in Israel and Palestine and her second doctorate in Ministry in Spiritual Formation from Northern Theological Seminary. She is the author of several books including the award-winning Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World and editor of A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land. Her work has been highlighted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Chicago Tribune, Christianity Today, Leadership Magazine, The Christian Post, Jerusalem Post, EU Parliament Magazine, Huffington Post, and other international media outlets.

Please note any views or opinions contained in this devotional series are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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