The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has been meeting in Charlotte this year. The seminars, meetings, worship services have revealed, at least from my perspective, several trends that transcend even this denomination. This is the second part of a three-part blog series.
The first part noted some positive trends that have arisen in light of the CBF’s core mission and values. This part notes the negative trends that I see stirring in light of the meeting. You may want to read Part 1 first in order to get a fuller understanding of life in the CBF.
Negative Trend 1: We are truly living in a post-denominational age. What that means is that the influence and presence of denominational national entities is decreasing. Couple that with diminishing church loyalty and a lousy economy, and you have the perfect storm.
When churches are struggling for resources, the little resources they do garner usually go to their own ministries or local ministries. Again, I speak from experience. My church gives ten percent of its income to missions and ministries outside of our church, but less than half of that total goes to national mission-sending agencies.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is feeling the pinch. In a business meeting early in the general assembly, CBF executive coordinator Daniel Vestall announced that the CBF may have to recall missionaries if revenues do not increase through the generosity of Fellowship churches. According to an article on www.abpnews.com, the national CBF is running about 30% behind budget.
Negative Trend 2: In a hyper-partisan age, denominations feel that they have to establish position policies to define the parameters of their identity. The Southern Baptist Convention has become quite effective in setting policies that denounce, exclude, affirm, or deny certain movements in today’s society (anyone remember when the SBC banned attendance to Disney World?).
This desire to establish positions has always haunted the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which prides itself on including all kinds of Baptist churches while honoring church autonomy. One of the few times the CBF did take a stance was in 2000, when it published a policy on prohibiting the hiring of homosexuals within its ranks. The policy has hampered discussion on same-sex orientation and marriages in the Fellowship for the past ten years.
Meanwhile, more and more churches find themselves wrestling with homosexuality on the local level, federal and state policies not withstanding. Churches that minister to all people, the BGLT populations especially, find themselves in awkward positions within the CBF. An unwritten “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stance has taken root in the Fellowship to, once again, not infringe upon church autonomy.
Today, however, the CBF finally allowed a break-out workshop to take place in which homosexuality was the main topic for discussion. Moderated by David Odom, the workshop basically had two pastors–George Mason and Joy Yee–to bear testimony as to how their congregations are wrestling with ministry to homosexuals.
Mr. Odom was explicit that the workshop and the participants did not reflect the official views of the CBF, that the “conversation” was for the sake of a first-step approach in figuring out how this issue is facing our churches today.
Problem is that any one of the 200 or so people in the audience could have given testimony. Many people in the audience agreed that hearing testimony was not necessarily needed at this time; churches need resources on how to deal with homosexuality on the grassroots level.
The CBF is about ten years behind current ministry trends related to this complex topic. Having a conversation was a great first step, but shows the lack of proactive engagement on the executive level, especially where engagement, not necessarily stances or policies, is much-needed.
Wednesday night’s worship service at the General Assembly worship service, Baptist historian, Bill Leonard, stated in his sermon that policies threaten to end conversations on topics and issues facing the church. For the CBF, its same-sex policy of 2000 has certainly slowed progress and has left far too many churches to fend for themselves.
CBFers don’t need policies; they need to be equipped for real-life, real-time quagmires.
Dr. Joe LaGuardia is senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church of Conyers. Visit Trinity’s website at www.trinityconyers.org.