CBF to vote on limiting membership
March 2 2001 by Greg Warner , Associated Baptist Press

CBF to vote on limiting membership | Friday, March 2, 2001

Friday, March 2, 2001

CBF to vote on limiting membership

By Greg Warner Associated Baptist Press ATLANTA - The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) in June will decide whether to require churches and individuals seeking membership to "embrace" CBF's mission and core values, not just send money. Proposed changes to the CBF's constitution and bylaws also would change the CBF's top decision-making body from a "representative" group to a "governing" board, said CBF executive Daniel Vestal.

Leaders said the changes reflect the Fellowship's coming of age. The moderate Baptist group will celebrate its 10th anniversary during its June 28-30 General Assembly in Atlanta, where the changes will be considered.

Last year, the Fellowship adopted a new mission statement that focuses on serving local churches. The constitution and bylaw changes, which represent a second phase of strategic planning, were approved Feb. 24 by the Coordinating Council, the representative group that currently directs the organization.

The constitution and bylaw changes will require approval by two thirds of those voting at the General Assembly.

During its three-day meeting, the council also adopted an $18 million budget for 2001-02; elected Reba Cobb of Louisville, Ky., to its No. 2 staff position as chief operating officer; and heard that its new restriction on funding theological schools that accept gay students will be challenged at the council's June meeting.

'Embracing' CBF Under current CBF bylaws, any church or individual that contributes to the Fellowship is considered a member. That includes churches that simply allow individual members to channel contributions to the Fellowship without any formal action by the church. That practice, critics say, artificially inflates the size of the CBF.

"There's no public identification ritual," Vestal said. Churches are not asked to vote, sign a document or "walk an aisle," he said.

Asking churches to embrace the CBF's mission and values, Vestal said, runs the risk of alienating some churches and shrinking the number now considered CBF members (about 1,800). "It's going to create some tensions." But it also gives churches that want to identify with the Fellowship a clear way to do that, he added. "At some point, I'd like to say, 'Here are our partnering churches.'"

The new standard will offer "a sense of belonging" to many churches that already consider themselves a part of the CBF, said CBF moderator Donna Forrester of Greenville, S.C.

While the new standard will tighten membership in the Fellowship, leaders say it will not limit participation. Any church or individual, whether or not a member, can participate in CBF meetings and programs. But only members can vote on business matters.

The revised constitution creates a "Partnering Member Forum," to be held during the annual General Assembly, during which members only will handle business. Every member of a participating church is allowed to vote, as well as individuals who join the CBF on their own.

Neither do the revised bylaws dictate how a church "embraces" the mission and values. Although some church action is required, the church decides what action to take "in its own judgment and through its own process."

"'Embrace' means whatever the church says it means," said moderator-elect Jim Baucom of Lynchburg, Va. "They will decide for themselves what it means to be a part of the Fellowship."

"It's going to be messy," said Baucom, a member of the task force that drafted the changes. "But every time we tried to clean this up, we infringed on the autonomy of the local church and we backed away from that.

"We would love for every church to adopt a statement to say they understand the core values of the Fellowship, ... but it's simply too much to ask."

By creating a more specific category of membership, while not restricting participation, CBF is catering to churches that want various levels of affiliation with CBF, council members said.

"We are trying to find a place for the church that wants fuzziness and the church that wants clarity," said Gary Parker, CBF coordinator for Baptist life and leadership.

The revised membership bylaw actually requires five things of "partnering" churches and individuals: 1) embracing the CBF mission, 2) embracing the CBF core values, 3) praying for its leaders and ministries, 4) participating in its ministries and decisions, and 5) contributing financially.

The CBF's mission states: "We are a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission of Jesus Christ and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. Our mission: serving Baptist Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission."

The CBF lists seven "commitments" as core values: 1) basic Baptist principles, 2) biblically based global missions, 3) a resource model as the primary means of serving churches, 4) a biblical vision of justice and mercy, 5) lifelong learning for ministry, 6) trustworthiness and 7) effectiveness.

The "organizational value" adopted last year, which prohibits funding of groups that condone homosexuality, is a funding policy and not a core value, CBF leaders said.

Most churches that now relate to CBF are also affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. CBF leaders said that nothing in the proposed changes would force those congregations to decide on any kind of "exclusive" relationship with the Fellowship.

New governing body structure proposed The 78-member Coordinating Council voted to replace itself with a 40-member Governing Board. The selection process for those board members drew the most heated debate of the three-day meeting.

Currently, the CBF's 18 state and regional organizations elect members to the Coordinating Council, with each state/region assigned a certain number of positions.

Under the revised bylaws, the task of nominating members to the Governing Board will fall to a nominating committee. Half the members of the committee will be chosen by the board from names submitted by the state/regional groups. The other half will come from the Governing Board itself.

Critics say the new structure makes the Governing Board more like a self-perpetuating board and distances it from the grass roots of the CBF.

"I don't see how the (Fellowship) body can influence that process once this is set in motion," said Bob Setzer of Macon, Ga.

Supporters say the new structure will result in a more diverse board and one better suited for the task of overseeing the organization's staff, budget and ministries. They also say it is inappropriate to let one Baptist group (a state/regional body) elect the members of another autonomous organization.

"Why do we add a filter that is a separate, autonomous Baptist body?" said Beth Fogg of Richmond, Va., a member of the strategic task force.

An amendment to share power, letting state/regional groups name half the Governing Board and the board itself to pick the other half, failed on a 22-27 vote.

Supporters of the new structure say the intent is to create more grass-roots participation, not less.

"It will allow us to have a more diverse group," said Fogg. The council has had less diversity because of the involvement of state/regional groups, she said.

"The state and regional groups worked real hard to send us their diversity," moderator Forrester told ABP, "but when we got together, we weren't as diverse as we wanted to be."

Baucom said the board still will be representative of CBF's membership, just not in the same way. While representation on the board would no longer be based on geography, it could involve people not active in state/regional groups, he said.

"We are seeking to supplant geographical representation with direct representation, since our primary covenant is not with the states and regions - as important as they are to our movement - but with the local church," he told ABP. "As far as we are concerned, every CBF organization exists to serve local churches and faithful Baptists within local churches."

The Governing Board would not be self-perpetuating, supporters add, because the nominees must be approved by the CBF members at the annual General Assembly.

While the Coordinating Council has been a way for CBF members to be involved on the national level, Baucom said, the new structure will seek to expand involvement in other ways, while allowing the more specialized Governing Board to focus on fiduciary issues.

For instance, Fellowship staffers now will be able to create ad hoc special-interest groups to represent the concerns of CBF members on such issues as education, Baptist principles and missions, supporters say, rather than funneling those concerns through the Coordinating Council.

Also a Leadership Team will be formed with representation from the state/regional groups and other organizations that affirm the CBF mission. While not involved in governance, this broad-based group will collaborate in accomplishing the CBF's strategic plan.

Additionally, every Partnering Individual, as well as every member of a Partnering Church, will be allowed to vote in the Forum.

Homosexual stand to be challenged A controversial policy adopted by the Coordinating Council last October again came up for debate during its recent meeting. The funding policy prohibits financial support "for organizations that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice." The action will affect CBF support of several theological schools that are required by their parent universities to accept gay students.

Dixie Petrey, a council member from Knoxville, Tenn., made a motion to rescind the policy. However, because prior notice is required to rescind a previous action, the vote on her motion was delayed until the council's meeting in June.

Vestal told the council the policy is "a middle-of-the-road solution" that allows CBF to support students at the affected schools through scholarship money while prohibiting direct support of the schools. "I am working real hard to deal with a conscience issue for many churches," he said.

Budget increase The $18 million budget for 2001-02 is a 6 percent increase over the current year's budget. The largest portion goes to global missions - $10.74 million, a 6 percent increase.

Administrative expenses rise 37 percent in the new budget to $2.24 million. The increase primarily will pay for two new professional positions, the resource center coordinator and a development coordinator yet to be hired.

The 11 theological schools funded by CBF will share $60,000 more in scholarship money, while two of the theology schools - at Gardner-Webb University and Campbell University, both in North Carolina - will share a $55,000 increase.

Most of the other organizational "partners" funded by the CBF will receive no increase in the new budget, however.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
3/2/2001 12:00:00 AM by Greg Warner , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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