Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will
In May, more than 300 churches from the Pacific Southwest region of the ABC (USA) voted to withdraw from their 1.5-million member parent denomination after its leaders refused to address complaints about the membership of “welcoming and affirming” churches, or churches that accept as members unrepentant homosexuals, in the denomination. Several American Baptist associations, such as the Evergreen Association in Washington, Rochester-Genesee region in New York, and others in Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts grant membership to such churches. Prior to the split, ABC (USA) had 5,800 churches.
While the ABC (USA) adopted statements on the incompatibility of Christianity and the homosexual lifestyle in 1984 and 1992, the General Board of the denomination in 1993 adopted a resolution calling for “continuing dialogue on human sexuality," an action which, according to conservative American Baptists, opened the door to churches that condone the homosexual lifestyle. ABC General Secretary Roy Medley repeatedly has stated that the denomination cannot enforce its earlier statements on homosexuality, citing Baptist freedom and local church autonomy as reasons.
The 2007 meeting between the CBF and ABC (USA) signals a strengthening relationship between the groups which partnered closely together in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year, and which have worked closely together to produce a Sunday School curriculum titled “Lessons on Poverty and Racism.” According to CBF Spokesman Ben McDade, leaders of the CBF and American Baptist Churches have been in conversation for a number of years.
“The purpose of our joint meeting simply is to celebrate our commitment to collaboration and cooperation in strengthening the Baptist witness and the cause of Christ,” McDade said in a written statement, outlining multiple partnerships between the two groups, such as Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefits Board. McDade said the organizations will continue to seek partnerships, perhaps even jointly appointing missionaries.
“CBF’s purpose in partnering with ABC (USA) clearly is not to entice ABC churches to join the Fellowship. We have churches that have multiple partnerships, some with ABC, others with the Southern Baptist Convention and other organizations,” McDade said in the statement.
During the general assembly, Alan Abbott, a representative from the ABC (USA), brought greetings to CBF participants. He said American Baptists are “a people of prayer, purpose and practice” who remain on mission “despite some recent pruning.” Abbott was presumably referencing the departure of the Pacific Southwest region, which includes churches in California, Arizona and Hawaii.
Recent problems in the ABC (USA) over churches open to homosexuality will not be addressed by CBF leaders, McDade said in his statement. The CBF, he said, “does not concern itself with the internal workings and politics of the ABC or any other religious organization.”
“We are interested in collaborating around our shared commitments to Baptist principles and the cause of Christ,” McDade said in the statement. “The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship welcomes all fellow Baptists who share our commitment to the historic Baptist principles of individual, church, Bible and religious freedom. CBF is a fellowship of churches and individuals.
"No doctrinal or social litmus test is required of individuals or churches who choose to participate in the life of this fellowship. In essence, our bylaws state that if an individual directly or through his or her local church sends CBF a dollar, that person is welcome to attend the general assembly and vote on issues that come before the body.”
Abbott said the American Baptists and the CBF need each other. He said the CBF could show American Baptists through their “postmodern methodology” how to meet the world’s needs. “More than any other group CBF can clarify and identify what Baptists believe,” Abbott said.