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CBF leaders claim Baptist mantle; AU trustee Holmes elected moderator

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Participants in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, avoided debate this year on the issue of homosexuality and listened as leaders proclaimed the CBF “the incarnation of Christ” and “Christ’s body fulfilled” for the 21st century.

Cynthia Holmes, a St. Louis attorney, was elected as CBF moderator for 2003-04. Holmes, who attends Overland Baptist Church in St. Louis, is on the 14-member board of trustees of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the 45-member board of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. She also is a former moderator of the Missouri CBF.

During a June 28 session, CBF moderator Jim Baucom said the CBF understands its mission to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the world and to uphold traditional Baptist teachings.

“I believe that we, the Cooperative Baptist church, are among the true Baptist heirs of this mission. We are the ones who understand the incarnation. We are incarnational Baptists taking the body of Christ to the most neglected of the world. That’s exactly what we are — nothing more and nothing less,” he said.

Baucom said the CBF would not distance itself from the problems that afflict the world.

“We are the Baptists who are willing for others to touch and see us. We prefer not to stand afar and cast aspersions or judgments. Come and touch us and see. We are the Baptists who go to those who are the most neglected and hold out our hands so they can see the scars of the crucifixion. We have died to ourselves and live to Christ,” he said.

What was immediately unclear in his address was whether his comments about the CBF being the “Baptist incarnation of God’s love in the world today” were meant to imply that Southern Baptists had ceased to be.

When asked whether the remarks were directed at the Southern Baptist Convention, Baucom first said his remarks “speak for themselves.” He later claimed that he did not intend to disparage other groups of Baptists. The remarks, he said, were a call for CBF participants to live as Christ would have them live among the neglected people of the world.

“We want to be in their living rooms. We want to be Christ to them,” he said.

Baucom also said in his address that the CBF will continue to prosper and grow because he believes the group embodies Christ. “We are witnesses of these things in ways that others have chosen not to be. We are witnesses of these things in ways that others desire not to be. We are the incarnation of Christ among Baptists.”

Daniel Vestal, national coordinator of the CBF, elaborated on the vision of the CBF in his address.

“We are to be what Christ was while he was on earth. We are to do what Christ did while he was on earth. We are to continue what he began. We are to be Christ in the world. We are the body of Christ, the mystical presence of Christ, representatives of Christ,” Vestal said.

Fulfilling that mission requires that the CBF “be prophetic and priestly at the same time” and “celebrate and sacrifice at the same time,” Vestal said.

Functioning in the prophetic role, Vestal said, would entail the church becoming like Jesus when he rebuked hypocrisy, refused to succumb to a consumer lifestyle and was “blistering in his words about legalism and oppression.”

The priestly role of the Christian is that of loving sinners both inside and outside of the church, he said.

“The church that incarnates the ministry of Jesus will love sinners. And because it loves sinners, it will serve them,” he said.

Vestal referenced differences between moderates and conservatives only once when he questioned how the church could oppose “the rising tide of fundamentalism that offers superficial and emotionally charged answers to complex problems.”

Other speakers in the general sessions included Julie Pennington-Russell of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, and Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity.

Pennington-Russell’s address centered on the convention’s theme: “It’s time.” She said it was time the CBF ceased expending nervous energy and time on the question of whether the fellowship will survive. The CBF is now 11 years old.

Also featured were Don Meier, who recently returned from Afghanistan where he coordinated medical care, and Phoebe Wabara, a native of Rwanda and student at Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, who spoke of the loss of several family members during the last civil war in her country.

More than 2,700 CBF participants attended the gathering.

In other business the CBF:

— re-elected Paul Kenley for a third consecutive term as recorder. Kenley is pastor of First Baptist Church in Lampasas, Texas.

— adopted a budget of $19,288,267, a 7 percent increase over the 2001-02 budget.

— noted that the fellowship has now endorsed 219 military and civilian chaplains who serve in 24 states.

— appointed 24 missionaries for service at home and abroad. Eleven of the missionaries were career personnel. The CBF has more than 130 international and domestic paid missionaries on the field today. The CBF’s mission efforts recently were aided by an anonymous $4-million donation.

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  • Gregory Tomlin