| Friday, May 25, 2001
May 25 2001 by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press

| Friday, May 25, 2001

Friday, May 25, 2001

Strategic-plan proposal causing friction in CBF

By Bob Allen Associated Baptist Press WINSTON-SALEM - A proposed strategic plan is causing friction between the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and some of its affiliates.

Two state chapters of the moderate organization have formally asked national leaders to reconsider recommendations altering membership qualifications and the method for electing its governing board.

National CBF leaders tout the second phase of a strategic plan, scheduled for vote at the Fellowship's 10th anniversary General Assembly, June 28-30 in Atlanta, as a step toward moving the organization beyond its origins in Southern Baptist controversy into a new kind of Baptist organization for a post-denominational age.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina's (CBFNC) Coordinating Council, however, voted unanimously May 21 to request that the vote on recommendations by a national strategic-planning committee be delayed a year. The motion calls for referring the proposals back to the national CBF Coordinating Council for "further review" with the "input of as many CBF members as possible."

The Coordinating Council of the CBF of Virginia earlier asked the national organization to reconsider a new proposal for electing leaders that it said "leans toward" self-perpetuation. Bylaw changes scheduled for vote at this year's CBF national gathering call for a smaller and renamed Coordinating Council that is less connected to state and regional chapters.

National CBF leaders report criticism from other states as well but say they also have gotten feedback from members praising the plan.

The Atlanta-based Fellowship supports about 120 missionaries and offers programs for churches looking for alternatives to the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention. The CBFNC council vote followed a study prompted by concerns about a part of the proposal defining member churches as those that, in addition to supporting CBF financially, choose to "embrace" the organization's mission statement and core values.

Critics oppose the change both on principle and for practical reasons. Some say requiring churches to affirm any position statement amounts to imposing a creed.

Baptists have traditionally opposed any effort to impose doctrine through ecclesiastical means, leaving it up to local churches to interpret the Bible for themselves.

Other critics of the CBF strategic plan say tinkering with membership requirements will bring division by forcing the issue in local churches where CBF and SBC supporters now peacefully coexist.

"I believe there are many churches that are dually aligned, and perhaps without formal action, because they have a few individuals who affirm CBF fully," said David Crocker, a N.C. Coordinating Council member from Fayetteville. He said requiring member churches to take action to affiliate with CBF could divide some congregations by precipitating an up-or-down vote on the question.

Virginia CBF leaders, meanwhile, questioned a proposed change in how leaders are nominated. Currently, the CBF Coordinating Council is broadly representative. Aside from a few at-large posts, the bulk of the Coordinating Council is nominated by the various state, regional and racial/ethnic networks within the Fellowship and elected by the General Assembly.

The new strategic plan, approved Feb. 24 by the Coordinating Council, calls for cutting the size of the council from its current 78 members to 40, to make it more efficient, and renaming it the Governing Board. While Governing Board nominees would still be subject to approval by the entire assembly in annual session, the responsibility for nominating them would be transferred to an eight-to-13-member nominating committee chosen by the Governing Board.

Virginia CBF's Coordinating Council called that change "a system that heavily leans toward a self-perpetuating Governing Board."

"While we want to express some measure of trust in the Governing Board," the group wrote national CBF leaders April 27, "we have learned through history, and more recently from our experience in the Southern Baptist Convention, that too much trust in a small group is dangerous."

Virginia's council proposed a compromise that eliminates numerical representation by state and region but continues to involve the networks in the selection process. Leaders said the alternative bylaws recognize "legitimate concerns" of the national CBF about efficiency and autonomy while keeping "the grass-roots voice in the nomination process."

Underlying the differences are complaints by state CBF leaders that they weren't involved in early stages of developing the strategic plan and now are in a position where they risk disrupting the process by confronting it publicly at the General Assembly.

"We're not rejecting the proposal, we're just asking that it be clarified," said North Carolina CBF moderator Mark Edwards, an attorney from Nashville.

National leaders, however, say the Fellowship has been in "limbo" for two years due to strategic planning and that a delay in the vote would be disastrous.

David Wilkinson, coordinator of communications and marketing for the Fellowship, told North Carolina CBF leaders that the 11-member strategic-planning committee may "have made some assumptions that caught you off guard."

Last year's General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a first-phase strategic plan that included a reorganization of staff and adoption of a new mission statement, core values and objectives. Wilkinson said the committee thought a logical step for the second phase of planning was to ask "what kind of governance" is needed for the restructured CBF.

"I think perhaps we underestimated the investment people have in the question of governance," Wilkinson said. "Some folks felt like we truncated the process."

Wilkinson said the language regarding membership resulted from requests by churches to clarify "what it means" to be a CBF church. He said the membership article wouldn't exclude any church that currently regards itself a Fellowship church but is intended to communicate that belonging to CBF is "not merely sending a check."

The CBFNC Coordinating Council approved a motion asking the national CBF Coordinating Council to rescind the earlier vote recommending the second-phase restructuring to the General Assembly and to redraw the plan for consideration in 2002. The council meets again just prior to the General Assembly.

Beth Fogg, a national Coordinating Council member from Richmond, Va., hinted that there might be room for compromise. She said some council members believe that problems identified in the strategic plan can be fixed with minor adjustments without requiring a year's delay in implementation.

Wilkinson said the council would need to weigh concerns raised by critics of the proposal with the interests of thousands of Fellowship members, some traveling long distances, expecting an opportunity to discuss and vote on the strategic plan at the General Assembly.

Should the Coordinating Council decline to withdraw the proposal, North Carolina leaders said they are prepared to bring their motion to delay before the full General Assembly.

Wilkinson said the Fellowship's Atlanta staff "does not fear vigorous discussion at the General Assembly." Any proposal presented, however, will need broad support. Since the recommendations involve amendments to the CBF constitution and bylaws, they must pass by a two-thirds majority.

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5/25/2001 12:00:00 AM by Bob Allen , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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