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CBF WRAP-UP: Fellowship seeks to clear
misconceptions, adopts preamble referencing Jesus

ATLANTA (BP)–Participants at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly in Atlanta, Ga., June 22-23, adopted a preamble to the group’s constitution that declares allegiance to Jesus Christ and emphasizes the CBF’s commitment to world evangelization.

“As a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches, we celebrate our faith in the One Triune God,” the preamble reads. “We gladly declare our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and to His gospel as we seek to be the continuing presence of Christ in this world. Our passion is to obey the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) of our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, and to uphold Baptist principles of faith and practice as we partner with one another and with other Christians.”

Adoption of the preamble follows protracted discussion at last year’s General Assembly over the deletion of the name of Jesus and a reference to the Great Commission from the CBF’s purpose statement. The action prompted criticism from some Southern Baptist leaders and caused a stir among CBF participants who said the deletion of the phrase reminded them of changes messengers to the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention made to the Baptist Faith and Message.

Participants then were referencing Southern Baptists’ revision of the article on Scripture in the 2000 faith statement, which removed language contained within the 1963 version. The language of the 1963 faith statement, Southern Baptist leaders said, allowed some Bible interpreters to set in opposition the authority of Scripture against the authority of Jesus Christ, who was described as “the criterion” by which Scripture was to be interpreted.

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, a document moderate Baptists historically have rejected, now reads in part, “All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who Himself is the focus of divine revelation.”

Reaction to the deletion of the name of Jesus and the reference to the Great Commission last year led CBF Moderator Joy Yee, the first Asian-American woman elected to the post, to appoint a special task force to address the concerns of CBF participants and related churches. The committee met in October 2005 and developed the new preamble.

Jack Glasgow, pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C., led the task force. He said in October that the preamble was “a fresh start” to answer questions from CBF participants, the general public and “unrelenting and unloving critics.” Glasgow told participants in Atlanta that the preamble would “communicate our convictions to those who genuinely want to understand what CBF believes.”

In a breakout session about the proposed preamble, Glasgow said the CBF brought the preamble forward because “ignoring that discussion last year and the feelings present there could have been harmful to the Fellowship.”

“There are unloving critics of CBF who would not affirm any statement that we make. There is no point in trying to convince them. We felt like we needed to speak to the Fellowship,” Glasgow said.

When the preamble was brought before the approximately 3,000 registered participants, Jay Robison, who was the first to raise objection to the deletion of the references to Jesus and the Great Commission at last year’s General Assembly, said he enthusiastically supported the preamble. “Friend and foe alike need to know who we are,” he said.

Meanwhile, CBF leaders focused on intentionally creating diversity in the fellowship. Yee told CBF participants that “God is about bringing order out of chaos; God is about pushing past the barriers that have been created between us.” She said God intends for the barriers of gender, race and culture to vanish within the church. Yee also led the national Coordinating Council in adopting a “mandate” that will urge CBF churches and affiliates to be intentional in seeking intercultural diversity.

Gender diversity in churches, however, has not come as quickly as some CBF participants would have it, several leaders of Baptist Women in Ministry said during a breakout session. A report on the state of women in Baptist life from Eileen Campbell-Reed, a doctoral candidate in religion at Vanderbilt University, and Pamela Durso, associate executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, said that of the Baptist churches they surveyed nationwide, slightly more than 500 had women pastors.

“It really is disappointing that after all these years only 508 women are pastoring Baptist churches in America,” Durso said during a breakout session.

The report also cited the fact that a number of Baptist women have left Baptist life to move into pulpits in the Disciples of Christ, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other “denominationally-affiliated churches.” This trend is not a recent one, according the BWIM. “Women have been walking away from the Baptist faith for centuries in search of a more tolerant and affirming denomination,” the report said, citing one case from 1766 where a Baptist pastor’s daughter defected to the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

Campbell-Reed, who said the report was “subjective rather than objective,” cited “slow and incremental progress” toward the goal of having a significant number of women pastors in Baptist life. According the group’s report, 5.5 percent of pastors at CBF “affiliating churches” are women. BWIM is a CBF partner organization, with CBF providing more than half of the group’s budget.

In other business, participants:

— named as moderator-elect Harriet Harral of Fort Worth, Texas. Harral chairs the deacon body at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth and is founder and president of The Harral Group, a consulting firm specializing in organizational leadership.

— elected Hal Bass, professor of political science and dean of the School of Social Sciences at Ouachita Baptist University, as recording secretary.

— elected Rob Nash as global missions coordinator. Nash , 47, was raised in the Philippines where his parents served as missionaries. He currently serves as dean of the School of Religion at Shorter College in Rome, Ga.

— approved a budget of $17.05 million for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, a slight increase over the previous year’s budget.

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  • Gregory Tomlin