The church I pastor (Immanuel Baptist Church, Frankfort, Kentucky) is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group that broke away from the fundamentalist dominated Southern Baptist Convention in 1991.
Cecil Sherman was the first Executive Coordinator of CBF and I distinctly remember the story he shared with a small group of pastors that met with him in 1992 who were in much prayer and thought about leading their churches out of the SBC to be part of the new organization (CBF does not call itself a denomination, but it clearly functions as one).
Dr. Sherman told us that he was part of a group called “the Peace Committee” formed at the height of the controversy, which (in theory) was suppose to be a safe place where moderates and conservatives could attempt to work out their differences and coexist. Sherman made, I thought, a generous offer. He said to the conservatives, “Let us [the moderates] have Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and one other school of your choosing and you can have the other four theological schools [that included Southwestern Theological Seminary in Texas which is one of the largest seminaries in the world]. You can do theological education your way and we will do it our way.”
Prominent Southern Baptist Pastor Adrian Rogers who was also on the Committee said, “We don’t want four of the seminaries, we want all six of the seminaries.” It was that spirit that drove moderate Baptists out of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Last year our church discovered that CBF has a restrictive hiring and funding policy that is exclusionary and condemnatory toward the LGBTQ community. The Coordinating Council adopted this policy in October of 2000, but our church leadership only became aware of it last year. On the CBF website the policy is titled: Organizational Policy on Homosexual Behavior Related to Personnel and Funding. It reads as follows:
As Baptist Christians, we believe that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness. We also believe in the love and grace of God for all people, both of those who live by this understanding of the biblical standard and those who do not. We treasure the freedom of individual conscience and the autonomy of the local church, and we also believe that congregational leaders should be persons of moral integrity whose lives exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct and character.
Because of this organizational value, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does this CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.
The church I pastor is a welcoming and affirming congregation. We not only welcome LGBTQ persons as members into our fellowship, we welcome their service and leadership (no position of leadership is closed to LGBTQ members). For obvious reasons we found the CBF policy related to personnel and funding deeply offensive.
In October of 2013 I sent a letter with the unanimous consent of our deacon body to the new Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter. It read:
Dear Ms Paynter,
Congratulations on your new position as CBF Executive Coordinator. I wish I did not have to correspond with you on such a serious matter, but I must.
Our church recently became aware of the CBF organizational policy on homosexual behavior related to personnel and funding that was adopted in October 2000. We are a welcoming and affirming congregation, and find this policy very disturbing.
The policy “does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice.” Our church would come under that ban since we affirm the LGBTQ community as equal members. The policy justifies this on the basis that “congregational leaders should be persons of moral integrity whose lives exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct and character,” obviously judging homosexuals as persons lacking in moral integrity and high Christian conduct and character. We do not believe sexual orientation in and of itself says anything about a person’s “moral integrity” or “Christian conduct and character.”
It was the unanimous decision of our deacon body that I write and express to you our concerns. We have two important questions, the answers to which will determine the level of our continuing support of CBF.
First, is this policy being currently implemented? Second, is there any formal discussion going on (committee, group, etc) that could lead to a change in this policy?
If there is I would be glad to be part of that discussion. I believe that change best comes from within, rather than without. Your response to these questions would be much appreciated.
Grace and peace,
Chuck Queen, Pastor, Immanuel Baptist Church, Frankfort, KY
The letter was sent and we waited. No response. Did the letter get lost? The letter was sent a second time. It is now July 2014 and we are still waiting for a response.
It took the Southern Baptist Convention a long time, but finally in 1995 the denomination formally apologized for its support of slavery and racism. For many years the SBC stood on the wrong side of history.
I wonder how long it will take the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to realize that with regard to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers it is on the wrong side of history. How long will it take for them to apologize for their condemnatory policies toward our LGBTQ sisters and brothers?
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to theUnfundamentalist Christians blog on this website.