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Christian denominations & homosexuality

The Cooperative Baptist
Fellowship and homosexuality

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History:

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is a quasi-denomination that split from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1991. The driving force for the schism was a long-standing fundamentalist-moderate battle within the SBC. The Fundamentalist takeover of the SBC is now essentially complete. Some moderates left to form the CBF. Since the schism, the SBC has gone on to create a boycott of the Disney Co., to ban the future ordination of women, to promote male authority among married couples, to issue increasingly harsh statements about homosexuality, etc.

Members of the CBF consist of "individual Baptists, Baptist churches and members thereof who contribute annually to the ministries and operations of the Fellowship." A Coordinating Council of 83 members is elected at the annual General Assembly. The council meets three times a year to plan CBF missions and ministries. The CBF Resource Center is staffed by approximately 35 persons. They sponsor about 140 missionaries. They have 11 partner seminaries and theology schools.

The CBF and the homosexual issue:

Like most conservative faith groups, most of the leadership in the CBF:

bulletDescribes homosexuality in terms of behavior rather than as an orientation
bulletGenerally refers to homosexuality as a lifestyle, not as a sexual orientation.
bulletRarely refers to bisexuals or a bisexual orientation.
bulletBelieves that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christianity, and condemned by God.

However, the CBF supports the historical Baptist principles of:

bulletallowing soul freedom -- individual freedom of conscience, and
bulletgranting autonomy to the individual congregation.

In contrast, the SBC has violated these centuries-old principles by expelling any of its congregations who have thoroughly studied the homosexual issue and which have become welcoming churches.

The issue of ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians is a very active concern to the CBF. In spite of the wishes of its leaders, it simply will not go away. It, and the issue of gay and lesbian civil union church rituals, are criteria that people use to judge the alignment of a denomination along the conservative - liberal axis.

On 2000-NOV, Coordinator Daniel Vestal commented:

"In the past two years, I have spent an inordinate amount of time on the homosexuality issue. As an organization, we have invested time and financial resources responding to critics in the Southern Baptist Convention who have misrepresented and maligned us, while at the same time reiterating our commitment to freedom of conscience and local church autonomy with regard to positions on social and ethical issues. Even so, CBF found itself being defined on the issue of homosexuality by our critics on the right and by some of our supporters on the left." 1,2

Vestal has visited more than 250 churches that are members of CBF. He found that only a small minority will

bulletOrdain a sexually active homosexual,
bulletCall an ordained sexually-active homosexual pastor to serve in a leadership roll, or
bulletPerform same sex unions for its committed gay couples. 1

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CBF statements on homosexuality:

bullet2000-JUL-25: Statement by the coordinator on homosexuality: Coordinator Daniel Vestal responded to an article in the Baptist Press about "the emotionally-charged issue of homosexuality." He regarded the article as inflammatory and in error. With an apparent reference to the Baptist Peace Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry, the Baptist Press article stated that the CBF "will continue funding a pro-homosexual organization whose booth was prominently featured at the CBF?s General Assembly and another group whose immediate past president suggested that homosexuals can be called to the pastorate..." Coordinator Vestal denied the connection and referred to a question-and-answer brochure that the CBF has published. In it, he had written: "I believe the practice of homosexuality violates the teaching of Scripture...But I will not throw stones at those who live a homosexual lifestyle ? or any other lifestyle I believe to be outside the will of God. As a follower of Jesus, I should offer them my love and friendship. I should do this in a spirit of humility that grows from my own need for forgiveness and grace." 3
 
bullet2000-OCT-14: Statement by the Coordinating Council on homosexuality: During 2000-Spring, the pastor of a CBF partner church decided to bring a specific motion to the General Assembly that would have the CBF withdraw funding from Wake Forest Divinity School because they admitted gays and lesbians to the school. Many divinity schools are affiliated with a university which has regulations opposing discrimination on the basis of gender, race and sexual orientation. This motion did not materialize. In its place, the Coordinating Council decided to issue a general statement on homosexuality. They approved, by a 35 to 23 vote, a statement which said, in part:
bulletThey "believe that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness."
bulletGod loves all people.
bulletIn an apparent exclusion of sexually active homosexuals from its leadership positions. they wrote that "leaders should be persons of moral integrity whose lives exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct and character."
bulletThey do not fund "organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice."
bulletSexually active homosexuals are not eligible for a staff position in the CBF or for an assignment as a missionary. 4

According to the Associated Baptist Press, the CBF leaders described this policy as "welcoming but not affirming" gays. 5
 

bullet2001-APR-26: Alliance of Baptists criticizes CBF policy: The Alliance is an umbrella group which has about 110 liberal Baptist congregations as members. 6 At their annual convocation, the new CBF policy towards homosexuals came up for discussion. A majority of conference delegates approved a request that the CBF "...rescind this action and to develop ways to continue discernment of the church's response to homosexual persons in our day." They also decided to seek clarification of the CBF policy before deciding whether to have an exhibit at the next CBF General Assembly. CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal released a statement rejecting the request, saying "...it disturbs me that one Baptist group would attempt to intrude in the affairs of another autonomous Baptist organization. To express a difference of opinion is one thing, but to formally 'urge support for the motion to rescind' CBF's policy crosses the line in terms of fraternal relationships between Christian organizations." 7
 
bullet2001-JUN-29: CBF General Assembly votes to retain modified homosexual policy: Dixie Lea Petrey of Knoxville, TN introduced a motion that would have rescinded the CBF policy on homosexual behavior and funding of partner organizations. She felt that the policy had "redefined the Fellowship." Her motion said, in part: "For a decade, we have had too much respect and appreciation for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ to be wiling to cast one another as winners and losers by voting upon those matters of conscience about which we all care passionately and on which we each are earnestly seeking God's will but on which we have by no means come to a consensus." The CBF Coordinating Council defeated her motion by a vote of 38 to 13.

However, the Council made one significant change to CBF policy: the statement was originally described as an "organizational value." It is now a "personnel and administrative funding policy." This clarifies that it is an internal document for the CBF Resource Center, and does not speak for the CBF movement as a whole.

Our predictions about the future:

As society increasingly accepts homosexuality as a normal and natural sexual orientation, it is highly probable that an increasing number of CBF affiliated churches will accept sexually active gay and lesbians in committed relationships, as pastors and other staff. We predict that an increasing number of congregations will conduct civil/holy unions for their lesbian and gay couples. Because of the Baptist's historical policy of local church autonomy, the conversion to a welcoming and affirming fellowship can proceed gradually on a church-by-church basis. Eventually, we expect that sufficient support will build up so that affirming statements about homosexuality will be passed by their General Assembly.

References:

  1. "Rationale for homosexuality statement," 2000-NOV-15, at: http://www.cbfonline.org/forum/
  2. Coordinator Vestal listed a number resources in order to arrive at his own perspective on the homosexual issues:
    bulletRichard Hays: "The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A contemporary introduction to New Testament Ethics," Harper San Francisco, (1996) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
    bulletStanley Grenz, Welcoming But Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality. Read reviews or order this book
    bulletJames Hanagan, Homosexuality, A Test Case for a Christian?s Sexual Ethic
  3. Daniel Vestal, "CBF and the issue of homosexuality," 2000-JUL-25, at: http://www.cbfonline.org/newsstand/
  4. "Council adopts stance on homosexuality," 2000-OCT-23, at: http://www.cbfonline.org/newsstand/
  5. Bob Allen, "CBF council adopts value statement 'welcoming but not affirming' of gays," 2000-OCT-13, at: http://www.cbfonline.org/newsstand/
  6. The Alliance of Baptists has a web site at: http://www.allianceofbaptists.org/
  7. "Alliance opposes CBF stance," 2001-APR-26, at: http://www.cbfonline.org/newsstand/
  8. "2001 Assembly: Council votes to keep homosexuality policy," 2001-JUN-29, at: http://www.cbfonline.org/newsstand/

Copyright © 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-3
Latest update: 2001-JUL-3
Author: B.A. Robinson

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