For me, CBF began – as it does almost every year – with the T. B. Maston Foundation’s CBF Maston Scholars Retreat. I’ve been privileged to serve on the Maston Foundation Board of Trustees for the past 10 years, and the annual student retreats at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in March and CBF in June are always among the highlights of my year. The Logsdon retreat is for undergrads, and the CBF retreat is for graduate students. It’s an encouragement for me to get to know these students, hear them tell of their ministry plans, and then observe them discussing critical ethical issues under the leadership of seasoned scholars like Charlie Johnson (who led this year’s retreat at Logsdon) and Bill Tillman (who led the CBF retreat). God is calling some wonderful young people into ministry.
I spent a lot of time last week, as always, talking with new friends and old in the open areas of the Hyatt Regency. This is, simply, what we do at CBF (and at most similar meetings). One of my most special conversations took place Thursday afternoon, when I spent an hour with three old friends from our days as students at Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) – Layne Smith, Steve Graham, and Ray Schooler – to swap stories about our mutual larger-than-life OBU friend Ron Russey, who was killed in a car accident in 1979 (and to whom I paid tribute in a TBC blog post in 2012). We planned this a few months ago and were glad to find an hour that fit all of our schedules. Our discussion of Ron Russey, of course, led to stories about other OBU friends as well. Ah, the old school ties that bind for life!
On Wednesday, Joanna and I attended the Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) Celebration, which took place this year at our home church, Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. This is another special highlight to which I look forward every year, to join with others in celebrating the ministry and leadership achievements and contributions of women. Raquel Contreras preached a powerful sermon, “The God Who Sees Me,” based on Genesis 16. Pam Durso, BWIM executive director, reports encouraging news that the presence of women in pastoral pulpits continues to increase, but challenges CBF churches, where there are still far too few women pastors. Also at the BWIM Celebration, Pam Durso and Mitch Randall, EthicsDaily.com executive editor, announced a partnership between BWIM & Ethics Daily that will yield a series of video documentaries featuring female ministers.
Coming into this year’s General Assembly, there were questions about possible unrest and dissension resulting from February’s presentation of the Illumination Project (IP) report. CBF has lost churches on both sides of the issue of hiring LGBTQ persons for CBF positions. Among churches maintaining a firm stand that LGBTQ persons are disqualified for any form of service in a church or denominational entity, some left because of the IP’s conclusion that would qualify such people for non-ministry and non-leadership staff positions at CBF. Among churches that are welcoming and affirming toward LGBTQ persons, some have left because of the IP’s “implementation policy” stating that LGBTQ persons should not be considered for field personnel or leadership staff positions.
As I mentioned earlier, I had many conversations throughout the week, and I walked past many others. In these informal settings, I never heard anyone discussing the IP. Not that such conversations didn’t take place . . . but if I never heard such in all the time I spent there, then the subject apparently didn’t distract our Fellowship from, ah, fellowshipping.
Thursday morning, however, there was a significant event that addressed this situation. To my great regret, I missed it, because I didn’t know about it! If I had, I would have been there. It was the Affirming Network Breakfast, at which affirming churches and individuals met to organize an affirming church network within CBF. Since I wasn’t there, I’ll commend to you an article by one of the co-leaders of the Affirming Network: Bojangles Blanchard, Breakfast at CBF launches network for LGBTQ inclusion.
Wilshire voted in November 2016 to have only one class of membership, meaning that henceforth LGBTQ church members are treated as any other member, eligible for any area of service in the church. My personal take on the IP report at CBF? I voted for full inclusion at Wilshire in 2016 and would have loved to see CBF go further and qualify LGBTQ people for ALL CBF staff positions, including field personnel and leadership positions.
However, I also understand and accept the explanation given by the IP task force – particularly concerning requirements of Baptist groups in some host countries where field personnel would be assigned. I respect Charlie Fuller and members of the task force he chaired, and appreciate their months and months of diligent work. Whether I fully agree with their conclusions, I know that they put a lot of serious study and deliberation into the process, conducting numerous listening sessions throughout CBF, and they didn’t arrive at their conclusions capriciously.
As for those – on either side of the issue – who decided to sever all ties with CBF, as a Baptist I simply don’t understand it. CBF – unlike the SBC or the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which expelled Wilshire and other churches for an affirming stance – respects the autonomy of the local church. CBF’s hiring policies have absolutely no impact on an affiliating church’s right and ability to decide its own policies regarding employment and other service in its church.
When Moderates rebelled against the Fundamentalists who took control of the SBC, it was because the Fundamentalists insisted that all churches, seminary professors and administrators, etc., must abide by a creed, must agree with certain rigid interpretations of scripture. Moderates said, we can cooperate with you to share Jesus with a hurting world, without agreeing with you on every fine theological point.
Now it seems some Moderates have decided this Fundamentalism isn’t such a bad thing after all, depending on the issue. Some on either side of this issue have said to CBF, in effect, if your policy doesn’t line up completely with our stance on this one issue, then we can no longer cooperate with you, we can no longer work with you to share Jesus with others, to love others, to minister to the least of these. That is a Fundamentalist attitude.
Among those churches and individuals who remain in CBF, there is still no consensus . . . there is disagreement. Wilshire and other affirming churches will band together – as other affinity groups within CBF – to work for the equality that is so important to us. But the vast majority of CBF churches and individuals won’t be joining us in the Affirming Network, at least for now. However, all of us will continue to cooperate on that which we hold in common – our love for Jesus, our love for the world, and our desire to bring Jesus and the world together.
CBF is my family. All families have disagreements, arguments, sometimes even fights. But we don’t stop being family. Click here to read Baptist Standard Editor Eric Black’s analysis of why some churches are staying in CBF.
Last week’s General Assembly made me prouder than ever to be a part of the CBF family. The stories of the many ministries in which CBF is involved – in the U.S. & around the world – moved me even
more than in previous years.
Wednesday evening’s worship service featured the work of Fellowship Southwest, the new regional CBF network led by Marv Knox. We heard more about Fellowship Southwest at the CBF-Texas meeting Thursday afternoon. It’s exciting to hear what’s being accomplished throughout our region as the various state CBF organizations work together under the Fellowship Southwest umbrella.
Each evening, worship services featured stories of the ministries being carried out by CBF field personnel and affiliated organizations. Our CBF field personnel often go into dangerous, seemingly godforsaken areas to help people in desperate circumstances and let them know that God has not forsaken them.
Speaking of CBF-affiliated organizations, I attended the New Baptist Covenant luncheon, Baptist News Global dinner, and Baptist Joint Committee/Religious Liberty Council luncheon, as I do every year. We were inspired and challenged at all three.
I’ve saved the best for last, as did CBF last week. The commissioning ceremony in the closing service is always moving, but this year seemed to touch me even more than usual. It’s a special time as our Fellowship commissions new chaplains & pastoral counselors, church starters, and field personnel. After the commissioning, CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter asked those newly-commissioned to stand in the aisles, and then asked the Fellowship to move to the aisle for the blessing and laying on of hands. In my aisle was a young woman who had just been commissioned for ministry in Africa. We moved toward her, with those closest placing their hands on her, and the rest of us doing the same to the person closest to us, as a way of blessing her through them.
As Suzii prayed for God’s blessing on His commissioned servants, I felt a hand on my back that seemed to exude a special warmth. When the prayer concluded, the man whose hand had been on my back said, “Excuse me, Bill, may I squeeze through here?” It was Daniel Vestal, one of the warmest, most caring people I know, who served CBF for 15 years as its second executive coordinator. Daniel “squeezed through” to embrace and bless the young woman headed for Africa; then he embraced two people, with tears in their eyes, who were obviously her parents, and kept his arms around them as we sang the closing song.
Well, tears were in my eyes by this time. That’s what our Fellowship is all about – love, encouragement, crying together, rejoicing together, being the presence of Christ to each other, our communities, and the world.
CBF isn’t perfect . . . we have a lot to work on . . . but CBF is family, a flawed family working together to love like Jesus loves.