ATLANTA (BP)–More than eight years after the Southern Baptist Convention settled the issue, the breakaway Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has taken its first stand on homosexuality.
The two-paragraph CBF statement, however, garnered a split vote, 35-23, among its Coordinating Council members during an Oct. 13 meeting in Atlanta, according to news reports.
The Southern Baptist Convention in 1992, with virtually no opposition, approved an amendment to its constitution stipulating that churches which “affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” are “not in friendly cooperation” with the convention. The vote at the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis began a two-year process which culminated at the following year’s meeting in Houston, putting in place provisions to keep such churches from attending SBC annual meetings or sending contributions through the SBC Cooperative Program.
The CBF stance, however, makes no stipulation regarding the involvement of such churches in the CBF, which was founded in 1991 in opposition to the Southern Baptist Convention leadership.
The two-paragraph CBF stance, titled “A Statement of an Organizational Value Regarding the Funding of Partners,” reads:
“As Baptist Christians, we believe that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness. We also believe in the love and grace of God for all people, both for those who live by this understanding of the biblical standard and those who do not. We treasure the freedom of individual conscience and the autonomy of the local church, and we also believe that congregational leaders should be persons of moral integrity whose lives exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct and character.
“Because of this organizational value, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does this CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.”
Unsettled, beyond the split vote and beyond the statement’s words on CBF expenditures and hiring practices, however, are a number of ways in which homosexuality is likely to remain an issue within the CBF:
— The CBF Coordinating Council took no action or made no recommendation concerning a $9,000 allocation in the current CBF budget to the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America for developing church resources relaying its views on peace, justice and reconciliation.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship, in 1995, issued two statements affirming “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons” in church life. The organization’s board, in the first statement, vowed it will “take an active role at denominational meetings to oppose any resolutions which assault the integrity of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons and prevent them from becoming members of churches, being ordained, being credentialed for chaplaincy and pastoral counseling and being employed in denominational structures.”
This year, the Baptist Peace Fellowship produced a curriculum for churches, titled “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Resource for Congregations in Dialogue on Sexual Orientation,” which affirms same-sex parterships, denies that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior and affirms homosexuality as an unchangeable sexual orientation. Promotional materials for the curriculum include endorsements by former CBF moderator Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler and Tom Clifton, president of the CBF-supported Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Kan.
— The CBF Coordinating Council rejected a portion of the statement as originally proposed to end direct financial aid of CBF “partner” theology schools that affirm homosexuality, according to an Associated Baptist Press report. Theology schools bound by university-wide policies prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals would have been blocked from direct CBF funding although their students could continue to receive CBF scholarships. Instead, a study will be undertaken on the potential impact on at least four CBF-supported theology schools which have open admission for homosexuals: Wake Forest Divinity School and “Baptist houses of study” at Duke, Emory and Texas Christian universities. Currently Wake Forest and TCU use CBF funds only for scholarships, ABP reported, while Duke and Emory receive direct CBF support.
— No CBF checks are in place for CBF-funded organizations which join forces with homosexual activist groups, such as the CBF-funded Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs did in 1994 in a manual titled, “How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community,” which also included the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force among the sponsoring organizations. Among the manual’s assertions: “You cannot successfully battle right wing forces without gay and lesbian participation.”
— The CBF statement does not address the participation of CBF leaders in various organizations at the forefront of the nation’s pro-homosexual movement, such as David Currie, former chairman of the CBF Coordinating Council’s finance task group, who is on the board of The Interfaith Alliance, an ecumenical Washington-based group that has launched a number of initiatives in concert with homosexual activists.
The Interfaith Alliance has released, for example, an “issue paper,” titled, “Discrimination Against Gays and Lesbians in Housing, Employment, and Education,” supportive of the controversial Employment Non-Discrimination Act percolating in Congress since the mid-1990s. The bill would establish homosexuality, under the title of “sexual orientation,” as a classification deserving protection in the same way race, ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, religion and disability now have protected status in the workplace. The Interfaith Alliance issue paper charges that religious conservatives have “propagated a series of harmful myths about the gay and lesbian community,” such as “using the metaphor of disease, suggesting that homosexuals can and must be ‘cured’ by programs of ‘reparative therapy’ in order to live a healthy lifestyle … .”
Currie, who also leads the anti-SBC Texas Baptists Committed organization, spoke in favor of the CBF statement though continuing to serve on The Interfaith Alliance board.
CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal was quoted by ABP as saying of the new CBF statement on homosexuality: “It [is] time for CBF to address this issue as an organization.” The CBF is “being defined by our enemies on the right and our friends on the left. I feel it is time for our organization … to do some self-definition and not depend on others to define us,” Vestal said, describing the statement as “welcoming but not affirming” of homosexuals.
Vestal said very few CBF-related churches would ordain a homosexual to the ministry or conduct a same-sex union, according to the ABP story. “I have no interest whatever in excluding or demeaning or minimizing any in this Fellowship who share a different perspective than this document,” Vestal was quoted as saying. “I do not want, one, for us to fragment over this,” he said. “Two, I don’t want anyone to leave over this. I think the difference between us and other bodies is we can and should have differences among us and still be committed to Christ and our common cause.”