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WRAP-UP: CBF hears liberal theology, controversial comparison to Holocaust

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Just over 2,000 registered attendees adopted a slightly increased budget, heard criticism of the Southern Baptist Convention and had the option to participate in a workshop questioning a fundamental Christian doctrine at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly June 19-20 in Memphis, Tenn.

The attendance of 2,033 was down from last year’s General Assembly attendance of nearly 2,600 in Washington. North Carolina registered the most attendees with 261, while Virginia and Texas followed closely with 259 and 229 respectively.

The Fellowship adopted a $16.5 million operating budget for 2008-2009, up $19,000 from last year’s operating budget but still not back to the $17.05 million budget of 2006-2007.

Because of revenue shortfalls, CBF budget expenditures are being held at 90 percent for the first part of fiscal year 2007-08, Larry Hurst, director of finance and accounting, told a meeting of the group’s Coordinating Council June 18.

Through the same period, revenues totaled 96 percent of the projected budget, resulting in a slight surplus (but still below what was budgeted), Hurst said, adding that the surplus may not hold because the slowest months of the year for giving occur between now and the end of the fiscal year in September.

In other business, attendees heard a report on the CBF’s efforts to help achieve the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, elected a slate of new committee members recommended by the committee on nominations and were presented with Jack Glasgow, pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church in Zebulon, N.C., as their new moderator.

John Killinger, executive minister and theologian in residence at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, made perhaps the most notable theological claims of the meeting, questioning Christ’s deity and arguing that the Gospel of Mark was actually written by a group of early heretics known as Gnostics. Killinger’s church affirms homosexuality as normative and not sinful, and on its homepage has a link dedicated to the “gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered community.”

“Now we are re-evaluating and we’re approaching everything with a humbler perspective and seeing God’s hand working in Christ, but not necessarily as the incarnate God in our midst,” Killinger said in his June 19 workshop, “The Changing Shape of Our Salvation.” “Now, that may be hard for you to hear depending on where you are coming from, but we can talk more about it.”

Killinger’s presentation was titled after his book “The Changing Shape of Our Salvation” which was promoted generously at the General Assembly by Smyth & Helwys, the CBF publishing partner. Although The Crossroad Publishing Company actually published the book, Smyth & Helwys distributed publicity material at Killinger’s workshop, hosted a book-signing for the author and displayed the rival publisher’s book in the Smyth & Helwys booth at the CBF resource fair.

In a third workshop, Killinger suggested that the late evangelical leader Jerry Falwell was in some way responsible for the death of a former employee, William Menge. Menge’s body was found mutilated under a bush hog on Menge’s farm in 1980. The death was ruled an accident, but Killinger shared a conspiracy theory with the workshop audience, claiming two hit men killed Menge on Falwell’s behalf.

The assembly’s resource fair featured among its exhibitors the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Baptist Women in Ministry and the Baptist World Alliance.

At the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America booth, Baptist Press obtained two booklets defending homosexuality as morally acceptable. One booklet, entitled “Jesus Loves Me This I Know: Stories of GLBT Christians,” tells the stories of homosexual, bisexual and transgender people who claim to be living faithful Christian lives.

“Our hope in compiling the stories found in this little booklet is that the reader will ‘meet’ real live people who are dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ, who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” the introduction states. “These are stories of anguish and of joy, of giving in to and overcoming the fear that led to closeted lives.

“But most of all, these are stories of people who heard the call of God to ministry and responded, even in the face of great difficulties and open hostility. We rejoice with them as they use their God-given talents in service to the kingdom of God.”

The other booklet, “Homosexuality and the Bible” by Walter Wink, argues, “Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well, and nowhere attacked it as unjust. Are we prepared to argue today that slavery is biblically justified?”

The Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) booth distributed copies of its 2007 annual report, “The State of Women in Baptist Life.” According to the report, only 5.9 percent (113) of all CBF churches have female pastors. BWIM also had T-shirts for women on hand displaying the slogan, “This is what a preacher looks like.”

During worship and business sessions, attendees heard multiple criticisms of the SBC.

During the opening session, Smyth & Helwys Publishing presented Cecil Sherman, CBF’s first executive coordinator, with a copy of his newly published autobiography, “By My Own Reckoning.” When he accepted the award, Sherman compared the SBC’s conservative resurgence to the Holocaust, in which Nazis executed millions of Jews.

“Every once in a while I know someone of the younger generation who says, ‘Don’t talk about that [the beginning of the CBF] anymore,'” Sherman said. “Why don’t you tell a Jew, ‘Don’t talk about the Holocaust anymore.’ We need to remember the events that called us into being and be guided by them as you rise to determine your future.”

In a separate session, Chuck Poole, senior pastor of Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., said proper interpretation of Scripture requires believers to ordain women to the pastorate.

“I came to see that passages such as Galatians 3:28 really did embody the spirit of Jesus more fully than passages that drew a small circle and raised a tall wall. And quicker than you can say, ‘new skins with new wine,’ I came to see that if we were not going to ordain women, we were going to have to stop baptizing girls,” Poole said to applause.

In other General Assembly news:

— Attendees participated in “Prayer and Discernment Team Gatherings,” in which they met in groups according to their home states and regions to discern God’s leading for the CBF’s future.

Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal and Moderator Harriet Harral both used their reports to the General Assembly to stress the importance of the prayer and discernment gatherings.

By seeking God’s guidance, the coming years can build on the exciting past the CBF has enjoyed, Harral said.

“CBF is 17 years old — and what an amazing 17 years it has been,” she said. “A passion for the Great Commission and to Baptist principles of faith and practice have formed bonds of fellowship and ministry around that world — that passion — and what someone once told Daniel (Vestal) is the greatest vision statement in all of Christendom — being the presence of Christ in the world.”

— Nearly $10,000 was collected for the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Offering for Religious Liberty and Human Rights.

— The Lord’s Supper was served during the assembly’s final session June 20 celebrating CBF home and foreign missions.

— In a June 19 worship session, lyrics to the hymn “In Christ Alone,” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, were changed to be more gender neutral and eliminate a reference to God’s wrath toward sin.

The line, “The wrath of God was satisfied,” referring to Christ’s death on the cross, was changed to “The price of sin was satisfied.” Also the line, “I am His and He is mine,” referring to Christ, was changed to “I am yours and you are mine.”
With reporting by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach. David Roach is a correspondent for Baptist Press based in Louisville, Ky.