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CBF’s Vestal seeks to counter news reports on homosexual issue

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Baptist Press report on funding allocations by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship relating to the issue of homosexuality has prompted CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal to go to the Internet with a response.

Six Baptist Press stories on the CBF’s recent General Assembly, with on-site reporting by correspondent Russell Moore, are archived and available on the Internet in the “Bapt Press” section at www.sbc.net.

The story in Baptist Press dated June 30 and targeted by Vestal noted in the first paragraph:

“The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will continue funding a pro-homosexual organization whose booth was prominently featured at the CBF’s General Assembly and another group whose immediate past president suggested that homosexuals can be called to the pastorate, according to action taken during the June 30-July 1 [CBF General Assembly] in Orlando, Fla.”

The specific organizations:

— The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

— Baptist Women in Ministry.

Vestal, in a July 25 response posted on the CBF’s Internet site, countered, “The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has never issued any statement, taken any action, or spent a single dollar that was intended in any way to condone, endorse or promote the gay-lesbian lifestyle.”

The CBF’s relationship with the Baptist Peace Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry “has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of homosexuality. To suggest otherwise is untrue,” Vestal also stated.

Baptist Press, meanwhile, has received a number of observations about Vestal’s response.

“The central issue here is one of contrast,” one Baptist worker, for example, said in an e-mail to Baptist Press. “The SBC has spoken clearly on the issue of the gay agenda, both in the [Baptist Faith and Message] and in countless resolutions. … The CBF, however, has leaders who will broach this subject only among the enlightened, educated elite of CBF assembly-goers. The Baptists in the pews in CBF churches who fund the body have no right, it seems, to ask about the viewpoints on this matter [homosexuality] of those leading the organization. This is a denial of soul competency and is exactly the kind of hubris which led Southern Baptists to eject this crew from leadership in 1979 and thereafter.”

Another observer noted that CBF funding of the Baptist Peace Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry are not the only problematic pro-homosexual involvements of the CBF. The CBF itself produced an AIDS resource packet for churches in 1994 which included such assertions as, “We do not choose our sexual orientation, but rather we ‘awaken’ to it” and “There are … gay families and lesbian families … .” The CBF-funded Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs joined with such homosexual activist groups as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in producing in 1994 a manual titled, “How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community.” Among the manual’s assertions: “You cannot successfully battle right wing forces without gay and lesbian participation.”

Vestal, in his response to the June 30 Baptist Press story about CBF allocations to the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North American and Baptist Women in Ministry, maintained that both allocations are “consistent with CBF’s mission and core values.”

Concerning the Baptist Peace Fellowship, Vestal said the CBF “does not contribute to the operating budget” of the organization, but Vestal explained there is “one line item of $9,000” in the CBF budget for contracting with the BPFNA for “developing congregational resources dealing with issues of church conflict and reconciliation, restorative justice and biblical teachings about peace, justice and reconciliation.”

Baptist Press, in its June 30 story, noted that the Baptist Peace Fellowship, at its booth in the CBF exhibit hall, was promoting a church “resource” which affirms same-sex partnerships, denies that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior and depicts homosexuality as an unchangeable sexual orientation. Titled “Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Resource for Congregations in Dialogue on Sexual Orientation,” the 250 page book, which sells for $22.50, was produced in conjunction with the Alliance of Baptists.

A Baptist Peace Fellowship promotional sheet cited 13 people who endorsed the resource, quoting a paragraph from each, including former CBF moderator Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler and Tim Clifton, president of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Kan.

Vestal, noting that 93 exhibitors were in the CBF exhibit hall, or “Resource Fair,” said, “CBF has not attempted to screen and approve each of the thousands of resources on display at the Resource Fair. Instead, all Resource Fair vendors are asked to exhibit in ways that support and complement the mission statement of CBF and the purpose and objectives of the General Assembly. 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.”

Vestal did not indicate, however, that a review has been initiated of the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s pro-homosexual church resource.

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.”

Concerning Women in Ministry, Vestal said the CBF has allocated $30,000 to the group “as a partner in networking, encouraging and supporting women, both laity and clergy, in congregational ministry.”

Vestal referenced a section of the Baptist Press article citing comments by Becca Gurney, immediate past president of the women’s group.

The Baptist Press account stated that Gurney told a CBF session that the SBC has no right to suggest that God does not call women to the pastorate, and she likewise has no right to suggest that God does not call gays and lesbians to the pastorate. “Who am I to say who God can call and gift for ministry?” she said. “In terms of God calling gays and lesbians, when we start limiting God’s call we’re in dangerous territory.”

Said Vestal: “If she [Gurney] was quoted directly, I personally disagree with some of her statements. But her comments on that issue have nothing to do with the nature of our cooperative work with Baptist Women in Ministry.”

Concern continues, however, that Gurney’s comments reflect a pattern among the presidents of Baptist Women in Ministry.

The current president, Raye Nell Dyer, is listed, for example, as one of five spokespersons — “resources to the media for interviews and talk shows” — in a news release issued by a pro-homosexual group, Equal Partners in Faith, titled, “Progressive Religious Leaders Respond to Racism and Homophobia by Southern Baptist Convention Leaders.” The Equal Partners in Faith news release contends that SBC leaders “want to keep women in the kitchen and gays in the closet.” SBC stances on the family and on homosexuality were “not about Scripture,” but “about politics, plain and simple.” Equal Partners in Faith is led by Steven Baines, an open homosexual and self-described Southern Baptist minister who told Baptist Press, July 27, that he was ordained by First Baptist Church, Charleston, S.C.

Kathy Manis Findley, who was president of Baptist Women in Ministry prior to Dyer and Gurney, is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., which was cited as having “a pro-gay stance” when it received an Alliance of Baptists grant in 1997.

Vestal, in other parts of his response to the Baptist Press June 30 story, said:

— he and his predecessor, Cecil Sherman, “have made unequivocal public statements expressing our personal views on the subject of homosexual behavior,” equating homosexual practices with other sinful behaviors.

— the June 30 Baptist Press story is “inflammatory,” raising “unnecessary questions” which have cast “doubts … on the people, the churches and the ministries of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.”

“Frankly,” Vestal claimed, “the so-called news stories produced by Baptist Press about the 2000 General Assembly ought to be an embarrassment to any self-respecting news organization.”

Will Hall, vice president for convention news with the SBC Executive Committee, noted, however, “Our reports were factually and contextually accurate about events and statements made at the CBF meeting. Not one point of fact has been disputed.”

— he (Vestal) is issuing anew his call for “the leaders of the [Southern Baptist Convention] to put an end to the mean-spirited assault on fellow believers who are part of the Fellowship. There ought always to be room for disagreement among Christians, but our commitment to honesty, integrity and fairness ought to reflect the spirit of Christ.”

Vestal’s call, however, contrasts with his own signature on a 1995 document charging that the “Radical Religious Right poses significant dangers to our churches, our political system, and our American way of life.”