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Controversy erupts about CBF statement on homosexuality

ATLANTA (BP)–The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship erupted into controversy June 29 over the issue of the moderate Baptist group’s position on homosexuality. In a stunning reversal of the earlier decision by the CBF governing board, a vote taken during a special-called business session tabled the Coordinating Council’s policy statement on homosexuality and directed the CBF moderator to appoint a committee on human sexuality to bring a recommendation to the moderate Baptist group for next year’s General Assembly. According to CBF polity, the motion now goes to the General Assembly for a vote in the morning business session on June 30.

The meeting was announced after a motion was brought at the Friday morning business session. It was open to all interested CBF participants.

With tensions running high, CBF members on both sides of the issue sparred during the hour-long business session. Supporters of the move argued that it would be a step toward justice for gays and lesbians and an affirmation that the moderate CBF opposes creedalism. Opponents pleaded that the move would destroy funding for the CBF from Baptist churches and mean “the demise of the CBF.”

The motion, brought by Larry and Carolyn Dipboye of First Baptist Church of Oak Ridge, Tenn., counters the Coordinating Council’s decision, of last October, to issue a value statement disapproving of homosexuality and articulating opposition to funding of pro-gay and lesbian groups by the CBF.

If passed on June 30, the new motion would suspend the Coordinating Council’s homosexuality statement and establish a study commission appointed by the CBF moderator. This commission would study the question of what a CBF response to homosexuality should be. The commission, as described by Carolyn Dipboye, would be modeled after the commission headed by Randall Lolley in 1996 to determine whether CBF should declare itself a denomination.

Chase Peeples from Atlanta’s Northside Baptist Church, a supporter of the motion to rescind the policy, said the Coordinating Council’s disapproval of practicing homosexuality is “what we started this organization to get away from.” Peeples added, “If we want another Executive Committee with Paige Patterson’s wife on it talking about women in ministry, then we can go back to the SBC.”

Bill Sherman, who identified himself as one of the original “Gatlinburg Gang” of moderates during the SBC controversy, pleaded with participants not to pass the motion. “There are Baptists out there, and I’m one of them, who think there comes a time you have to say right is right and wrong is wrong.

“Churches out there are not going to support a pro-gay and lesbian group sending missionaries,” he continued. “If this passes, it will be the demise of this organization.”

“This motion deals with the very heart of CBF,” warned Texan Mark Newton who opposed the motion. “If this passes, we will celebrate not only the tenth anniversary of the CBF, but the beginning of the end of CBF.”

“Churches all over Texas are waiting to hear what CBF has to say,” he said. “Folks, the funding will end for CBF.”

David Currie, national leader of the Mainstream Baptist Network and a leader in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, denounced the move, imploring the body to reject the motion.

“This issue was forced on this body last year, by a group that sold materials affirming gays, lesbians and bisexuals and spoke to the press about it,” Currie said. “We’re pushed to a place. Y’all can discuss it. The churches want to know one question-yes or no.”

“Any organization that sends missionaries must define itself,” Currie said. “It is our churches that want to know.”

Susanne Dabney of Dunwoody Baptist Church in Atlanta supported the motion, noting that Southern Baptists had been wrong on slavery at its founding in 1845.

“Let’s not say God condemns homosexuality,” she said. She referred to a Discover magazine article that detailed children born part girl and part boy.

“I believe Paul was right about 100 percent men and 100 percent women,” she said. “I don’t believe he intended and, more importantly, I don’t think that God intended, [the NT prohibition of gay sex] for those born with a mosaic of gender.”

A point of order came to the floor when motion opponent, Pam Stiles of Texas, a Coordinating Council member, asserted that the Coordinating Council had received the approval of the deans at the CBF’s partner divinity schools. Scott Hutchens of North Carolina took issue with the statement, saying that the deans had been asked by CBF coordinator Dan Vestal to agree to the statement. No such agreement was reached, he said, and the deans left the meeting in disagreement.

David Adkins from Virginia offered a substitute motion that would have kept the Coordinating Council’s homosexuality statement intact for one year while simultaneously establishing the study committee whose members would make their recommendation to the General Assembly next summer. The motion failed.

Just prior to the business session, coordinator Daniel Vestal used his report to the General Assembly to implore CBF participants not to fragment apart into warring factions.

“Can we embrace one another and can we embrace the tension?” Vestal said. “We have differences among us about social practices, worship, public policy, politics and various ethical issues. Let us refuse to judge one another across our differences.”

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  • Russell D. Moore