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CBF reorganization plan stalled

ATLANTA (BP)–It’s supposed to be a birthday party, but celebrants at this year’s tenth General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship might not get the gift the coordinating council planned on — for at least another year or two.

Meeting June 27 in a ballroom at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta, about 60 members of the CBF Coordinating Council rescinded a motion that called for presenting the second-phase of a reorganization plan to the General Assembly.

The plan, designed by an 11-member strategic planning team, included a proposal to change the CBF constitution and bylaws relating to membership criteria; the scope, size, and selection of the coordinating council; and relationships among CBF state, regional, and national organizations.

CBF is a denomination-like group that was organized in 1991 by critics of the conservative leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their first annual meeting was held that year in Atlanta.

Coordinating Council member Pam E. Eubanks, a layperson from Knoxville, Tenn., who serves on the CC’s advisory and nominating committees, spoke to CC members after concerns were raised. She shared her understanding that the proposal was to be “sort of a birthday present to CBF.” Cautioning the council to “chew on it and think about it” before presenting the proposal to the general assembly at this year’s meeting, she said “part of what happens is when you grow older you get wiser.”

“We’ve all gotten birthday presents we’ve been disappointed in,” Eubanks said. “Maybe we can come up with a wise birthday present for our eleventh or twelfth birthday.” Waiting might also deter fellowship members from thinking anyone had “railroaded” the proposal, Eubanks said.

CBF moderator, Donna Forrester, minister of pastoral care and counseling at First Baptist Church, Greenville, S.C., began the meeting by asking for a point of personal privilege. She said numerous objections and questions from North Carolina and Virginia created “a virtual storm” as people read the strategic plan “from their own perspectives, without the information sometimes.” Citing her own concerns and questions, she said people do not yet understand Phase One — the part of the strategic plan passed last year at the assembly in Orlando — and “haven’t had enough time to absorb the changes.”

“I don’t think we’ve spent enough time [explaining the changes],” Forrester said. “We have really begun to focus in a different place. …I don’t think you can grasp Phase Two until you can understand Phase One.”

Asking for a vote to discuss the matter, Forrester said a two-thirds vote would be required. The vote was unanimous.

Later, parliamentarian Beth Fogg, a council member and attorney from Richmond, Va., settled the question of how to phrase a motion to rescind, withdraw or table the motion, saying that the way to bring a “done deal” on the table is to rescind it, therefore, the vote to discuss the matter was taken as a motion to rescind.

Fogg, a member of the team that presented the proposal, made the statement after several CC members asked questions and queried Forrester about delaying the proposal without losing the substance of the work done by the strategic planning team.

In the moments following Fogg’s pronouncement, Mark Newton, pastor, Baptist Temple Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, spoke to the confusion created by the meeting’s process.

Newton, who also identified himself as the first vice-president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said everyone needed to clearly hear what was being said.

“We are talking about the life or death of CBF. It’s important to know exactly what we are voting on,” said Newton. “Don’t vote and then turn around and say it’s something else.”

No member of the now-disbanded team spoke in favor of the presenting the proposal. When asked, Forrester said the CC council officers had discussed the matter previously but the advisory committee had declined to make a recommendation at this meeting.

Michael Tutterow, CC member and pastor of Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., circulated a sheet with recommendations and concerns expressed by the Coordinating Council of the CBF in North Carolina. At a May 21 meeting a motion was made that a representative speak to the CC during the June 27 meeting in Atlanta.

Tutterow said the decision was unanimous to ask that the CC wait a year in order to talk about concerns.

“There is a perception of a self-perpetuating board,” Tutterow said, and concerns about CBF becoming “creedal in form” and engaged in monitoring and interpreting core values.

Other concerns expressed in the statement include: changing the name of the Coordinating Council to Governing Board — “sounds heavy-handed and legalistic”; the reduction in size of the coordination council and the change from three-year to four-year terms on the council; Bylaw changes that require the Governing Board to report only “major” decision to the membership — resulting in less accountability to the membership; using the term “chief executive officer” when referring to the Coordinator; new membership provisions eliminating the state and regional fellowships as affiliated members; a new nomination process that allows for Governing Board members who are not members of their state or region’s fellowship.

“They saw that the whole process was fraught with difficulties,” said Tutterow. “How it’s playing at the grass roots level — it’s not well received.”

Robert Setzer, CC member from Macon Ga. said he favored postponing the proposal until theological and ecclesiological models of how Baptists gather in large bodies are studied. He said there is a “serious deficit” in the current proposal.

“I think we need to have some of our wiser heads get together,” Setzer said. “There is too narrow a consensus to proceed.” He later made a motion recommending that the moderator direct a group to study these issues. He withdrew the request after moderator-elect nominee Phill Martin of Richardson, Texas, assured Setzer his concerns would be heeded. Setzer recommended study be pursued through the new Center for Baptist Studies that will launch July 1 at Mercer University in Ga. Walter Shurden, chair of the Christianity department at Mercer, will direct the program.

After more discussion, a motion was passed to refer the phase two recommendations of the strategic planning committee back to the CC for further review.

Forrester recommended and it was agreed that the informational sessions scheduled during the assembly would be used for discussing ideas related to the strategic plan and to listen to the wishes of grass roots members.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan