CBF leader sees demise of political groups
March 20 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

CBF leader sees demise of political groups | Friday, March 21, 2003

Friday, March 21, 2003

CBF leader sees demise of political groups

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

The head of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) doesn't see much future for Baptist political organizations.

Dan Vestal, CBF's coordinator, was asked in a breakout session during the CBF-North Carolina General Assembly, about CBF's relationship with Texas Baptist Committed and the Mainstream Baptist organization. He said there is no formal relationship, though many of the same people in those organizations are also CBF supporters.

"I don't see a future for the Mainstream organization," Vestal said. "Its primary purpose has been political. They have helped Baptists, but people are tired of fighting fundamentalists, and I don't see a future (in it)."

CBF formed in 1991 as a missions and ministry alternative to the Southern Baptist Convention, which has taken a decidedly conservative shift since the late 1970s.

Texas Baptists Committed is largely credited with keeping hard-line conservatives from gaining control of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Similar groups, usually called Mainstream Baptists, have formed in other states with less success.

Vestal said CBF's future will depend on how faithful it is in fulfilling its own mission. "The more people see who we are, the more they will be attracted to us," he said. "The more we are committed to that vision, the more we can say 'Come and join us.'"

Pastors and laity need to step forward, Vestal said, and say "CBF is really who we are, and it's time for us to step up to the plate" in financial support and active involvement.

Vestal said it is hard for Baptists who have always been part of a majority movement to realize that they are now in the minority. "I'm convinced I will spend the rest of my ministry as part of a minority movement," he said, "but that's okay. We need to get over it ...

"Let's hold our heads up and be part of a movement, a righteous movement," Vestal said. "Let's say 'I want to give to it and sacrifice for it.' We are surrounded by a powerful juggernaut of fundamentalism, but it's our time."

Asked about the status of CBF's application for membership in the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), Vestal said, "I will be surprised and disappointed if we don't get in." The membership committee will probably not make an announcement prior to the July meeting in Seoul, Korea, he said, but the SBC's reduction in giving to BWA "is a sign that they think we will get in."

Vestal expressed concern about the actions of SBC representatives during the 2002 meeting of the BWA General Counsel in Seville, Spain. The membership committee brought a favorable report about CBF's progress toward meeting membership requirements, Vestal said, and asked the counsel to accept the report as a simple matter of receiving information, not as final acceptance.

When BWA president Billy Kim called for a voice vote, the response was almost wholly positive, Vestal said, except for a small group of SBC leaders who shouted "No!" Kim seemed taken aback, Vestal said, and asked for a show of hands. Again, most representatives lifted their hands high, while the SBC representatives raised their hands in opposition.

It was an emotional, tense moment, Vestal said. Afterward, many leaders from other countries sought out CBF representatives and offered affirmation, he said. "There is great love for CBF in many parts of the world by Baptist leaders."

"If we are admitted we want to be a good member, and we don't want the SBC to leave," Vestal said. "I hope we can work together in BWA as fellow Baptists and fellow Christians."

But Vestal did not seem confident about a positive movement in the relationship. "A lot of money and time has been spent by SBC leaders to make us look bad," he said, "a lot of effort to malign us, belittle us, criticize us, saying we are liberal and that we don't believe the Bible.

"If you say something often enough, many people will believe it whether it is true or not," Vestal said. "Those constant accusations have hurt us."

Vestal said a lack of funds has slowed expansion of the CBF global missions program. "We could double our missions force tomorrow with no additional administrative costs," he said. The organization is currently behind in budget income, he said, and could not budget any additional funds for new missionaries in 2003-04, though 400 missionary applications are on file.

"Are you saying we can't send any more missionaries unless we get more money?" someone asked. "That's right," Vestal replied.

Vestal said 150 new churches contributed to CBF for the first time last year, but that the organization's growth has reached a plateau. "I don't see any great exodus of churches from the SBC," he said.

Budget growth for CBF national has been affected by growth in the state and regional CBF organizations, whose budgets have grown considerably, Vestal said. "That has hurt our budget in the short term, but in the long term I think it is good," he said.

"But the missionaries are sent from Atlanta," someone responded.

"You're making my speech!" Vestal said.

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3/20/2003 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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