Texas church leaves CBF over anti-gay policy
August 24 2001 by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press

Texas church leaves CBF over anti-gay policy | Friday, Aug. 24, 2001

Friday, Aug. 24, 2001

Texas church leaves CBF over anti-gay policy

By Bob Allen Associated Baptist Press AUSTIN, Texas - A former Southern Baptist church has announced it is cutting ties with the moderate breakaway group Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) over what congregation leaders called discrimination against gays and lesbians. Members of University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, voted Aug. 15 to withdraw from the Atlanta-based CBF over a new policy against hiring gays or funding organizations that "condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice," according to a press release.

The policy, adopted originally by the Fellowship's governing board, survived a challenge at this summer's General Assembly when delegates voted 701-502 against rescinding it for a yearlong study of where CBF churches stand on the issue.

The policy doesn't exclude homosexuals from CBF membership but forbids funding for pro-homosexual causes. Fellowship leaders describe it as "welcoming but not affirming" of gays.

But a letter to CBF officials, signed by University Baptist leaders on behalf of the congregation, said the policy doesn't speak for Fellowship-friendly churches that both welcome and affirm homosexuals.

"We most deeply regret the condemning message you have sent in the name of Christ to all gay and lesbian persons," said the letter signed by Senior Pastor Larry Bethune, moderator Ellen Bell and Anthony Chapple, deacon chairman.

"We cannot in good conscience support an organization which discriminates against our brothers and sisters in Christ on the basis of their orientation any more than we could do so if the CBF discriminated on the basis of race or gender," the letter said.

CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal said in a statement that he was "saddened" that any church would use an internal administrative policy "as a litmus test for cooperating with other congregations in global missions and ministries through the Fellowship."

The 400-member church, one of a small number of traditionally Southern Baptist congregations to come out in support of full inclusion of gays and lesbians, in the past defended itself against challenges from its association and state convention for its stance.

The Austin Baptist Association voted to oust the church in 1995 after University Baptist ordained a gay deacon. The Baptist General Convention of Texas executive committee withdrew fellowship in 1998. The Southern Baptist Convention changed its constitution in 1992 to ban from membership any churches that "act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior."

Members of the church were present when the CBF separated from the more conservative SBC over a variety of theological issues in 1991. The congregation still belongs to American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. and the Alliance of Baptists, a smaller and more liberal SBC splinter group that formed in 1986.

University Baptist isn't the first church to leave the CBF over the funding policy. Prescott Memorial Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., cut ties with the national CBF last fall, according to a church spokesperson.

Stan Hastey, executive director of the Washington-based Alliance of Baptists, said he wasn't aware of any other gay-friendly churches discussing cutting ties with the CBF, but some congregations are said to be thinking about reducing their level of support over the funding policy.

Dispute over the issue has also energized voices on the other side who contend the relatively close vote against a study is being misused by political opponents to cast the CBF as soft on homosexuality.

They say only a handful of the 1,800 Fellowship-friendly churches have taken action to ordain homosexuals or perform a same-sex union. Most of the 500-plus individuals voting for a study, they say, weren't necessarily pro-gay but merely sympathized with those calling for dialogue on the subject.

In July, a self-described "centrist" Baptist leader wrote an open letter labeling a "fundamentalism of the left" within the CBF.

David Currie, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, compared a minority of CBF members who advocate full inclusion of homosexuals with fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention who won't tolerate divergent views from moderates.

In a letter to Baptists Committed members, Currie predicted the Fellowship "will not grow unless it is a traditional Baptist organization and not led by fundamentalists of the left."

"Baptists are conservative, Bible-believing, Jesus-following people," Currie wrote. "CBF must reflect that, as well as the Baptist General Convention of Texas."

Former CBF Coordinator Cecil Sherman told the Texas newspaper Baptist Standard that he also ran into rigidity from the left on issues of homosexuality and women in ministry.

Sherman said there were individuals more willing to destroy the CBF rather than compromise, a position he found reminiscent of conservatives who now control the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Fundamentalists were willing to tear up the SBC if they couldn't control it," Sherman said.

"Fundamentalists of the left are willing to tear up CBF if they can't control it."

Hastey agreed there is nothing new about tension within CBF between its centrist and more liberal constituencies.

But Hastey disagreed that any left-of-center faction wants to control CBF. "The Texas influence dominates CBF life, in my opinion, and has from the beginning," he said. "There's always been, behind the scenes, a lot of talk about the relative conservatism of so-called moderates out there and what I have heard described as easterner elitism."

Years ago, Alliance and CBF leaders held conversations about the possibility of merging the two groups. Eventually those talks broke down, he said, because leaders from Texas felt "we were too far left of center on women's issues and really off the charts when it came to homosexuality." That would keep CBF from attracting what one former leader "liked to call the tall-steeple churches in Texas," Hastey recalled.

In their letter to CBF leaders, University Baptist representatives accused the organization's executive leadership of making "a political decision affecting theological identity," and then requiring membership to react by affirming or disaffirming its leaders.

The letter said the Fellowship "missed the opportunity to lead all Baptists on this issue" by fostering dialogue on the issue of homosexuals in the church. "We regret that the CBF Coordinating Council chose political expediency instead," the letter said.

The letter encouraged CBF leaders to "listen to voices of dissent among you in the days to come" and looked forward "to a day when all Baptists, including gay and lesbian Baptists, will feel welcome at the Lord's table and in the decision-making councils of our common Baptist life."

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8/24/2001 12:00:00 AM by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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