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CBF policy statement does not deter pro-gay activism at General Assembly

ATLANTA (BP)–Last year a controversy over the display of pro-gay materials during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship annual meeting caused the Coordinating Council to respond by adopting a statement on homosexuality. This year, the same materials advocating same-sex unions and gay ordination are on display again in the General Assembly exhibit hall.

Last June, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting in Orlando was embroiled in controversy from Baptists after Baptist Press reported that the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America had displayed its curriculum endorsing homosexuality in its exhibit hall booth. At the time, CBF coordinator Daniel Vestal charged that BP was involved in a “mean-spirited guilty by association campaign.” He told Baptist media that exhibitors were to exhibit in a manner supportive of CBF’s mission. “If any of the materials displayed at the resource fair are determined to be in conflict with CBF’s mission and core values, then future participation by that vendor will be reevaluated,” he said.

The CBF Coordinating Council responded with a statement of “organizational value,” which took an “open but not affirming” policy on homosexuality and threatened funding to pro-gay groups. On June 27, the CC voted to uphold the statement, despite fervent opposition from younger CBF activists, but did concede changing the statement from a “value” to a “policy.” A vote, June 29, during a specially called business session recommended that the General Assembly revoke the statement and establish a study committee on homosexuality to report back to next year’s meeting.

In an April 24 Associated Baptist Press report, Ken Sehested, director of the gay-friendly BPFNA, said the CBF had granted his group permission to exhibit, with complete freedom to display all its materials, “including a controversial resource booklet for promoting dialogue about sexual orientation in churches.”

“We are not censored in any way,” Sehested told ABP, noting that the possibility for conversation about pro-gay initiatives “is riper than ever before” in the CBF.

In the exhibit booth at this year’s General Assembly, the BPFNA prominently displays their Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth curriculum along with promotional materials that include statements of support from CBF leaders such as Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler and Tom Clifton. But the BPFNA presence is not limited to the exhibit. Sehested is scheduled as moderator of a CBF breakout session on justice and reconciliation. Sehested has been insistent that the Holy Spirit is leading the church toward recognition of gay and lesbian relationships.

Another pro-gay group has received a similar welcome at the 10th General Assembly. Stan Hastey, director of the Alliance of Baptists, which co-sponsored the pro-gay curriculum with the BPFNA, wrote in the current issue of the Alliance newsletter that he had been personally assured in a telephone conversation with Vestal that “CBF has placed no limitations on Alliance materials to be displayed.” Because of this assurance, Hastey said the Alliance agreed to exhibit, despite the Alliance’s discord with what was previously known as the CBF’s “value” statement.

The Alliance exhibit includes free copies of its statement on human sexuality, which advocates “genital sex, for both heterosexual and same-sex oriented persons” as “most responsibly expressed when it occurs in the context of caring, loving, committed, covenant relationships between monogamous adults.”

Figures across the CBF allude to the tensions that homosexual activism is causing within the proudly non-confessional shadow denomination.

The latest journal of the CBF auxiliary organization, the Whitsitt Historical Society, included an article by former CBF coordinator Cecil Sherman complaining that the noisy activism of “fundamentalists of the left” is jeopardizing the CBF’s donor base since “CBF has to stay close to ordinary Baptist churches, because ordinary Baptists give the money that sustains missionaries.” Others have speculated that reports of a pro-homosexual stance may offend Texas Baptist churches essential to the funding of CBF.

Mike Clingenpeel, editor of the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s Religious Herald newspaper, told the Whitsitt Society that the CBF lack of “consensus on its identity and mission” explains “items of business on the agenda last year and this year.”

Clingenpeel said that the SBC’s attempts to “demonize” the CBF come because conservative Southern Baptists recognize that “the battle is in the churches.”

“They have used tactics that work among an uninformed and easily misled group of people,” he said.

Neither Clingenpeel nor any other CBF leader has thus far this year denied the presence of the pro-gay materials in the General Assembly’s exhibit hall.

The younger activists in the CBF who want to ditch even the mildly worded “policy” statement of the CBF seem to have found support in some of the older guard of the CBF. In addition to Carolyn Crumpler’s endorsement of the pro-gay curriculum, former CBF moderator Hardy Clemons sent a letter to the Coordinating Council opposing the statement. Similarly, CBF historian Walter Shurden reminded the Whitsitt Society, “We have thus far resisted the call for a tightly drawn doctrinal or ethical statement. We would do well to resist the temptation to sharpen that profile. This is what started the trouble in 1979.”

“In terms of identity, I say, viva la chaos!” Shurden said.

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  • Russell D. Moore