CBF at 10 ... Will there be peace in the valley?
July 6 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

CBF at 10 ... Will there be peace in the valley? | Friday, July 6, 2001

Friday, July 6, 2001

CBF at 10 ... Will there be peace in the valley?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor The 10th birthday celebration of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) was tempered by growing pains and a continuing struggle to function without reference to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Joy and growth were evident during the fellowship's June 28-30 General Assembly in Atlanta, but pain and uncertainty also came to the party.

The organization, first begun as a hopeful avenue of fellowship and mission for persons and churches that felt estranged from the SBC, has evolved into a diverse network of Baptist individuals, churches and institutions. The CBF functions as a global mission-sending agency, provides a variety of resources for churches and generally acts much like a denominational convention without quite becoming one.

Officials count about 1,800 churches and thousands of individual supporters, and endure a fair number of detractors.

CBFers are a loyal bunch, attending the annual General Assembly meetings in large numbers and participating with passion. The organization counts less than five percent of the number of churches that claim SBC membership, but draws up to half as many people to its annual meetings. The Atlanta meeting drew a record 5,100 registered participants, while the SBC, meeting two weeks earlier in New Orleans, attracted 9,561 messengers, the smallest attendance at a meeting in the deep South since 1948. North Carolina had about 690 representatives in Atlanta, compared to 790 Tar Heel messengers at the SBC.

The CBF is unquestionably passionate, but still somewhat unsure about what it is and wants to be.

Some members see an increasing level of self-definition as normative signs of maturity in the organization. Others hold that adopting value statements on moral issues and proposing more stringent requirements for membership points CBF down the same creedalistic path they rejected in SBC life.

The high level of participation at CBF meetings may grow in part from the belief that attendance can make a difference, that meaningful participation and dialogue is still possible. Such was evident at the most recent meeting, where healthy discussion on difficult issues was the order of the day and a major proposal was shelved largely because of concerns expressed by N.C. participants.

Many CBF members have not forgotten their individual and corporate sense of pain and loss associated with the group's origin. As a result, resentful references to the SBC still surface despite frequent calls for the organization to move on and put the past behind.

The continuing reaction to the SBC is fueled in no small part by the SBC itself, which openly excludes from leadership any person who also supports the CBF, and which continues to criticize the organization through Baptist Press (BP). BP functions both as a press agency and public relations outlet for the SBC Executive Committee, but makes no distinction between the two roles.

BP sent Russell Moore, a doctor of philosophy student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to cover the CBF's 2000 meeting in Orlando. He wrote a series of blistering articles about the meeting, some of which were clearly distorted. BP has since published other articles intended to cast the CBF in a bad light through "guilt by association," inaccurately characterizing the CBF as endorsing homosexual behavior.

CBF communications director David Wilkinson responded by denying official press credentials to BP for the 2001 General Assembly, saying in a letter to BP editor Art Toalston that he regards BP as the SBC's public relations arm only, not as a legitimate news agency.

Two BP correspondents were allowed full access to all meetings and press facilities, however. Joni Hannigan, a high school teacher from McDonough, Ga., produced a steady stream of news items about the meeting, while Moore again went to proven sources for inflammatory material and added another series of critiques designed to paint the CBF in a negative light by focusing on minority voices that are not really characteristic of the larger group. Moore even invited a friend to join him and provide appropriately "shocked" reactions to quote. In all, BP published 17 articles about the CBF meeting, seven of them focusing on homosexuality.

I believe most CBF participants would like very much to leave the SBC in peace and focus on the organization's future role in God's kingdom. As long as the much-larger SBC continues its critical offensive against the CBF, however, the task will remain difficult.

The CBF also struggles in other areas. Although this year's attendance was the largest ever, the group's numerical, financial and missionary-sending expansion has slowed.

Will the CBF find its feet and move on to greater growth, or will it fall victim to the diversity it embraces as divisive issues continue to surface?

Will the SBC ever wash its hands of the CBF and wish it well as a collegial body of fellow believers, or will it continue its defamation campaign?

Will God bless this broad and bickering assortment of people, all claiming to be both "Christian" and "Baptist"?

Rabbi Gamaliel's advice comes to mind. In speaking to other Jews about certain leaders of the emerging church, he urged his brethren to let the believers be. If the movement was human-based only, it would fail on its own, the rabbi observed. But, if it was divinely inspired, critics would find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:34-39).

If there is to be any good future for the SBC and for the CBF, both groups need to call a truce, learn to bless each other and get on with the work of God as they believe it should be done.

And that's enough said about that.

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7/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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