Molly Marshall and Emmanuel McCall. (Photo: EthicsDaily.com)
More important than the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's programs, policies and press releases were the people at its 25th anniversary events in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Here's a short list of who I saw - and what they mean for CBF:
The mother of the moderate movement is unmistakably Babs Baugh. She showed tenacity and courage. She attended our early breakfast, which celebrated EthicsDaily.com's 25th anniversary, and numerous other events, always giving an encouraging word. Her presence was a gift to the Greensboro gathering.
Glenn Hinson's presence was also a gift. One of the intellectual forerunners of the movement, he saw early theological danger in Baptist life and spoke clearly. He trained some five generations of ministers on the importance of Christian history - and still dispenses wisdom.
Colin and Faye Harris, Bob and Janice Newell, and Darrell James exhibited servant leadership. They were putting fliers and magnets at each plate for our breakfast - before 7 a.m.
Two of the most under-acknowledged leaders combined the best of affordable technology to teach historical ethics, a much needed course in Baptist churches and seminaries.
Cliff Vaughn and Zach Dawes - EthicsDaily.com staff members - did so with a mix of humor - Name That Baptist - and dramatic storytelling - "The Disturbances."
Emmanuel McCall, Ircel Harrison, Bill McConnell, Earline Vestal, David George and many others are surely the "council of elders."
We all drink from the wells they dug. We are both the beneficiaries of what our elders have done and stewards of what they have entrusted us.
Sadly, another elder died before the assembly and we didn't know it. Joe Crumpler - long-time pastor and companion of Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler - passed away in early June.
The most noted leadership transition took place at the Baptist Joint Committee luncheon.
As Brent Walker steps aside, one wonders who can offer even-minded leadership in such an ideologically polarized period. Who will stand next in the long, thin line of Baptists who dedicated their lives to religious liberty and the separation for church and state?
Todd Still's energetic passion for a centrist approach to theological education reflects the best of the Southern Baptist seminary tradition.
Contrary to the popular narrative, there are recent seminary graduates who genuinely love the church and want to serve it. One example is Matt Sapp, pastor of Heritage Fellowship in Canton, Georgia.
What I saw gave me confidence in CBF's future. What I read gave me pause.
The protracted "illumination project" statement raises a host of questions:
- Why prioritize the LBGTQ issue given the multitude of issues that need addressing and around which consensus exists?
- Why is there the need for such a project now?
- Who really needs illumination?
- How will changing CBF's hiring policy on LBGTQ affect affiliated churches?
- Given what has happened with mainline Protestant churches, what evidence is there that such illumination will lead to church growth and expanded global mission efforts?
CBF has had a number of "listening sessions" over its 25-year history, including the 2012 task force which came after a 13-month spiritual discernment process. Leaders said that these "listening sessions" would set the organization's future action course.
Is the illumination project going to define and to set CBF's future path?
The CBF press release on the horrific Orlando shootings did acknowledge: "CBF is not a like-minded fellowship about matters related to human sexuality."
Perhaps a word of caution is needed as CBF wades into yet another "conversation" about revising the tradition of the church to validate culture's sexual mores: Passing a resolution, making a statement, is always easier at a national convention than in one's own local church.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Editor's note: Pictures from BCE's 25th anniversary breakfast event during the CBF assembly can be viewed here.