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CBF, BGCT leaders blast Southern Baptists; Vestal predicts 5,000 churches will leave

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–At least 5,000 Southern Baptist Churches will leave the denomination and join the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship because of the new edition of the Baptist Faith and Message, CBF Coordinator Dan Vestal told participants at the group’s general assembly on June 30.

In his address to the CBF, Vestal blasted the SBC for the confession, which he argued, places “Scripture over Jesus.” Vestal predicted that the revised BF&M would drive at least 5000 SBC churches into the CBF.

The new Baptist Faith and Message might also make a little money for the group, said David Currie, chairman of the CBF’s Finance Committee and coordinator of Texas Baptists Committed.

“Hopefully the event in this town a couple of weeks ago — and you can help us by warning folks — will cause our gifts to go up,” Currie told the CBF Coordinating Council June 29 as he reported on church contributions to the CBF.

Aside from the Baptist Faith and Message, antagonism toward the SBC was at almost fever pitch among CBF members. Seminar participants would refer to the SBC as “that other Baptist body” or “another large Protestant denomination.” Groups would cheer when panel leaders asked how many had been to Walt Disney World, a theme park currently boycotted by the SBC.

While some CBF leaders called for a more official “divorce” from the SBC, the group took some actions that looked rather denominational, even to some of its own members. In the July 1 business session, the CBF voted to apply for membership in the Baptist World Alliance.

In a June 30 discussion, Ronald Sisk, pastor of Louisville’s Crescent Hill Baptist Church, raised the question from the floor of whether the move was not “something denominations do.” Sisk asked if the action was a “subtle” move toward the “declaration for which many of us hope.”

Sisk was told that the CBF already meets the requirements the BWA sets forth for “a distinct and organized Baptist body” to join its ranks.

In other action, the CBF passed the first phase of its “Strategic Plan,” a reorganization of the group’s financial resources into categories of “faith formation, building community, leadership development, and global missions and ministries.”

The Assembly passed the 2000-2001 budget, including a $5,500 grant to the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America “to develop educational resources for congregations.” At the Peace Fellowship’s CBF booth, one of the two highlighted “resources for congregations” was a curriculum for churches advocating same-sex unions, gay ordination, and the moral legitimacy of gay sex.

The budget passed on a unanimous voice vote with no discernible dissent from the floor.

The CBF also unveiled their “Church Benefits Board,” an annuity fund designed for the CBF, but backed by the Ministers’ and Missionaries’ Benefit Board of the American Baptist Churches in the USA.

The CBF actions were overshadowed, however, not only by the SBC’s meeting, but also by rumors that the Baptist General Convention of Texas may soon “redefine” its relationship to the SBC. This left some CBF participants wondering if the large, well-funded Texas body may render irrelevant the CBF with its limited resources, aging leadership, and identity as a reactionary “counter-SBC.”

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” said David Currie who both leads the CBF finance team and coordinates a group encouraging the BGCT to cut ties with the SBC. “It will be interesting to watch.”

Stan Hastey, CBF member and executive director of the Alliance of Baptists, called the impending BGCT action “the wild card hanging over this General Assembly.” Speculating that the BGCT “could become a convention of churches unto itself,” Hastey suggested that the Texas convention’s next step is “the most important unanswered question we still have out there.”

“The big question is what then happens to the CBF?” Hastey said. “I don’t know. It doesn’t quite fit to me.”

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  • Russell D. Moore