Callam Addresses the Ethics of Race & Community During 2012 T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics

By: Kristen Harris

Editor: James Stone

Published in “The Logsdon Letter” ed. Winter 2012

Dr. Neville Callam, General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), delivered two lectures during Hardin-Simmons University’s thirteenth annual T.B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics. Callam addressed the topic of “Community and Exclusion: The Ethics of Ethnicity and Communion” as his theme. During the two lectures, Callam identified many of the exclusionary dynamics occurring within ethnic groups across a global context.

“Terms like ‘ethnic’ or ‘ethnicity’ are not as unproblematic as some may think” Callam said during his first lecture entitled Ethnicity: Establishing Borders of Exclusion. “In popular American usage, as also elsewhere, the label ‘ethnic’ seems to reflect a categorization of people not in order to affirm their common belonging in the species homo sapiens, but to highlight the contrast between them.”

Within the Christian community, Dr. Callam professes, “the use of the expression ‘ethnic churches’ is caught up in the politics of establishing borders, defining separate identities (and) classifying people over against each other, notwithstanding their common bonds in Jesus Christ.” Thusly, “the term ‘ethnic’ refers to people who are not ‘white.’”

Callam hinted toward a proper Christian response in his first lecture by asserting that Christians should affirm “what they have in common as human beings created in the image of God and as persons being formed in the image of Christ,” a theme he further explores during his second lecture: Communion: Celebrating Inclusive Community.

While giving his second lecture, Callam discussed the practice of Communion’s uniting and defining power.  To emphasize the impact of Communion, Dr. Callam quoted British anthropologist Maurice Bloch: “In all societies, sharing food is a way of establishing closeness. … Eating together is not a mere reflection of common substance, it is also a mechanism that creates it.”

Callam conveyed his belief that the act of sharing Communion unites those partaking the elements together and is further “capable of overcoming the boundaries we construct through the use of ethnic categories.”

Christians’ doctrinal differences and ethnic divisions have limited the fullness of Communion’s bonding effects.

“It is unfortunate that the Holy Communion has become a compelling sign of the disunity of the church, even though it was meant to be a symbol of the unity followers of Jesus share,” said Callam. “The divisions in the church in the United States appear to be most evident on a Sunday morning when, separated by their ethnicities, many Christians attend their churches where they celebrate the Lord’s Supper without any sense that this reflects a scandalous failure on the church’s part.”

Callam concluded his lectures by pointing out his belief that Christians need to deconstruct their understanding of ethnicity in order to enable the acknowledgement of our common bond in Christ Jesus.

“Through this deconstruction,” said Callam “the Lord’s Supper will be for Christians at once a celebration of grace, a banquet of love, and a festival of solidarity.”

Callam, a former vice president of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship, has served the Jamaica Baptist Union in a number of capacities, as well as involvement in higher education in Jamaica. An ordained minister since 1977, Callam received his initial training for the ministry at the United Theological College of the West Indies. He is a graduate of the University of the West Indies and Harvard Divinity School.

During his tenure with the BWA, Callam has been awarded ample opportunities to travel and experience diverse global cultures.

Dr. Bill Tillman; coordinator of this year’s lectures who formerly served as the T.B. Maston Chair of Christian Ethics at before taking his current position as the Director of Theological Education for Texas Baptists chose Callam because of the extensively informed perspective he brings from being a global citizen.

“With his Jamacian roots,” said Tillman, “Callam is not only fantastic to listen to, but brings a great deal of validity to helping us tackle some very sensitive issues.”

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