CHARLOTTE, N.C. (ABP) — The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America has announced plans to publish an expanded and updated edition of Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Resource for Congregations in Dialogue on Sexual Orientation, a 250-page study guide originally published in 2000.
The book, which includes case studies from congregations that have undertaken dialogue about sexual orientation, Bible studies and stories from gays and lesbians and their families, is one of several initiatives adopted by BPFNA directors at a recent meeting in Seattle.
According to a press release, there have been frequent requests to update the resource, which “has assisted many congregations to hold respectful discussions on this major issue of justice facing us today.”
The original book, edited by LeDayne McLeese Polaski and Millard Eiland, was published jointly by the Baptist Peace Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists with a funding grant of $5,500 from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Five years earlier the CBF had cut off funding for the BPFNA after its board approved a “Statement on Justice and Sexual Orientation" that then-CBF Coordinator Cecil Sherman termed beyond "any normal understanding of peace."
Along with funding for the book, the CBF Coordinating Council in 2000 also adopted an “organizational value” statement that Coordinator Daniel Vestal described as "welcoming but not affirming" of homosexuals.
"As Baptist Christians, we believe that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness,” the statement reads.” We also believe in the love and grace of God for all people, both for those who live by this understanding of the biblical standard and those who do not. We treasure the freedom of individual conscience and the autonomy of the local church, and we also believe that congregational leaders should be persons of moral integrity whose lives exemplify the highest standards of Christian conduct and character.”
Because of that, the statement says the Fellowship “does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does this CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual."
Recently some have called for CBF to rescind a hiring policy they say excludes gays and lesbians who are members of Fellowship churches. The Fellowship and Mercer University are co-sponsoring a “[Baptist Conference on Sexuality and Covenant” next April at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga. Organizers say it will be a “family conversation” about sexuality issues in the church but will not include any policy recommendations.
The re-release of Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth was one of several organizational priorities for the coming year framed around a common theme described by board members as “a call to deepen community in a variety of settings.”
They include building on last January’s friendship tour to Chiapas, Mexico, by joining partners there in focusing on such crucial issues as economic justice, immigration, the rights of the indigenous and U.S. militarization of Latin America under the cover of “the war on drugs.”
A friendship tour for seminarians to Tijuana is planned for next January, focusing on domestic violence and forces behind immigration, both legal and illegal.
In addition, BPFNA has joined the coalition, Borderlands: Heeding God’s Call, to address the flow of guns across the U.S./Mexico border.
“One Heart, One Soul: Building Communities that Work” (Acts 4:32) will be the theme of BPFNA’s annual conference July 30-Aug. 4, 2012, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
BPFNA will continue conflict transformation trainings throughout North America and around the world with a focus on Liberia and Sudan.
Priorities also included a “re-purposing of staffing” that includes a new position of information manager. The new job eliminates two current positions of administrative assistant and communications manager. According to the BPFNA website, the current administrative assistant is Jean Turner and the communications director is Johnny Almond, a former broadcaster who joined the staff in 2004.
Board president Cheryl Dudley said the restructuring means “saying adieu to valued persons and programs for us” but allows “the gate to new work and technologies to swing open in deeper faithfulness to our mission.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.