The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship reached out in ecumenical and interfaith efforts at its June 24-26 General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala.
The Fellowship, which claims 1,800 churches and 450,000 members, voted to become a founding member of Christian Churches Together USA, an ecumenical organization to be launched next May. The moderate Baptist group also strengthened ties with the Baptist World Alliance and featured a luncheon on fostering dialogue between Baptists and Jews.
The Fellowship, which formed in 1991, also for the first time elected a woman pastor to its highest office.
CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal cited “new convergences” for the Fellowship with the Baptist World Alliance, the evangelical social-witness group Call to Renewal and Christian Churches Together.
“I believe the time is right for people of faith, both Christian and non-Christian, to converge in the creation of community and to work together for peace, justice and reconciliation,” Vestal said.
Christian Churches Together will provide for the first time a place for representatives of Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal and ethnic churches to gather together, said John Finley of the CBF’s Ecumenical Task Force.
“The Ecumenical Task Force believes Christian Churches Together is an ecumenical organization that really does fit CBF,” said Finley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Savannah, Ga.
The CBF General Assembly adopted a $16.08 million budget for the fiscal year 2004-2005, which included increased funding for the Baptist World Alliance from $20,000 to $40,000. In addition to budget support, the CBF raised $47,670 in two offerings for the BWA, which recently lost $300,000 in annual support when its largest member, the Southern Baptist Convention, pulled out of the global alliance.
The CBF budget is the same dollar amount as 2003-2004, which was amended downward from $17 million after giving was lower than projected early in the year.
“We have operated within this amended budget, and we are on track to finish the 2003-2004 budget in the black,” said finance committee chairman Philip Wise, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas.
Asked in a workshop to comment on the Southern Baptist Convention’s $300,000-a-year defunding of the BWA, General Secretary Denton Lotz said: “I’m not here to talk about the Southern Baptist Convention. That battle is over and we are moving on. Our regret is not over the lost money but the lost fellowship and lost opportunities around the world. But we’re moving on and we are grateful for the Southern Baptists who have expressed their continued support of us.”
Leaders of the SBC recommended leaving the BWA in part because the alliance voted last year to accept CBF as a member. Southern Baptists protested the action, along with other complaints they said indicated the BWA tolerates “liberalism.”
“The BWA is a networker,” Lotz said at a BWA breakfast held in conjunction with the CBF meeting. “We don’t police one another. We network with one another. We ask what the Lord is doing in your life and how can we share resources.”
Emmanuel McCall, pastor of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in College Park, Ga., will represent the CBF on the BWA General Council, along with CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal.
The Fellowship’s Ecumenical Task Force met the day before the General Assembly to discuss Baptist-Jewish relations with Rabbi Jeff Ballon of Huntsville, Ala. A General Assembly workshop titled “Barbecue and Bagels” discussed models and resources for fostering dialogue between Baptists and Jews.
About 500 Baptists and Jews gathered for a luncheon sponsored by the Baptist Center for Ethics encouraging “a new era” of improved relations between Baptists and Jews.
Between markers of a 1980 comment by an SBC president that God does not hear Jewish prayers and controversy over anti-Semitism in “The Passion,” BCE Executive Director Robert Parham said, “Southern Baptist Convention leaders have jettisoned a wonderful tradition of interfaith dialogue, passed a resolution which targeted Jews for evangelism, prioritized Jews for conversion during their high holy days, refused to participate in joint worship services after 9/11 and compared the Jewish faith to a deadly tumor.”
“That, my Baptist friends, is more ‘Christian love’ than any group ought to bear,” Parham said.
In his coordinator’s report, Vestal focused on the “fellowship” aspect of the CBF, describing the Fellowship vision as “to be the presence of Christ to one another and to the world.”
“Can we be the presence of Christ to those with whom we differ over the Iraqi war, homosexuality, abortion, Democratic or Republican politics or stem cell research? This seems to me to be the acid test of our fellowship,” Vestal said. “Can we love each other, pray for each other, carry one another’s burdens and work in collaboration not only when we agree with one another but when we disagree?”
“In the world of religion today there is a need for our kind of Baptist cooperation,” said CBF moderator Cynthia Holmes. “We do not seek to dictate or control. We collaborate with other groups.”
“As cooperative Baptists we come together over things that unite us rather than narrow agendas that might divide us,” Holmes said. “We will never tell a church who they should call as a leader and we will never be a group that tells churches they should baptize only certain kinds of sinners.”
Holmes, a St. Louis attorney, will be succeeded as moderator by Bob Setzer, pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga. Joy Yee, senior pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church in San Francisco, is moderator-elect. Yee, the first ordained woman pastor elected as moderator, will lead the Fellowship in 2005-2006.
The role of women in ministry is one of the issues that divide the CBF and the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC officially discourages women preachers, while the Fellowship embraces women in the pulpit. The CBF has long alternated leadership roles between men and women, but Yee is the first female moderator who is senior pastor of a local church.
A total of 2,397 participants registered for the three-day assembly, according to a news release.
Eleven new global mission personnel were commissioned, bringing the total number of missionaries to 146.
The endorsement of 35 new chaplains and pastoral counselors brought the endorsement total to 414.Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com