The top elected leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship described a review of the organization’s LGBTQ hiring policy to be voted on this week as an attempt to meet various CBF constituencies “where they are” on a highly charged issue on which there is no consensus.
CBF moderator Shauw Chin Capps told the Fellowship’s Governing Board Feb. 8 that a nearly two-year Illumination Project focusing on the organization’s 18-year-old policy against hiring staff or missionaries who identify as LBGTQ brought her back to a core value she learned at seminary. Her mentor, the late professor Diana Garland, taught her, “To be an effective social worker, you must always meet people where they are.”
“I really believe this is what we have done in this Illumination Project process,” Capps said, “meeting our local partners, meeting our local congregations where they are, so that we have a better chance of cooperating, doing missions together, ministry, missions and advocacy.”
The Illumination Project began at the 2016 CBF General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C., to seek ways to model unity through cooperation amid cultural change. The first order of business was a review of an organizational value adopted by CBF leadership in 2000 describing “the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic” as marriage between a man and woman and “celibacy in singleness.”
“Because of this organizational value, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice,” the current policy states. “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.”
Over the next 18 months, an ad hoc Illumination Project committee prayed, studied Scripture, held more than 20 conference calls and eight meetings, gave presentations in 30 cities and studied hiring policies of other religious denominations.
The Illumination Project report and recommendations are scheduled for presentation from 1:30 to 3 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 9, in the chapel at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.
Capps, the CEO of Hopeful Horizons, a nonprofit organization in Beaufort, S.C., that provides safety and healing for victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault, said it has been difficult to spend so much time and energy on the process, but the “why” behind the Illumination Project “has made it worth every effort.”
“We are looking at how to cooperate and engage in commitment to Beloved Community despite principled differences,” she said. “When I focus on the ‘why,’ then that energizes me and helps me understand how important this process is.”
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done,” Capps said. “We recognize it’s not a perfect process, nor is it going to be the perfect outcome for everyone, but it is faithful, and it is bold.”
Capps said she hopes the time and energy put into the review of the hiring policy will not cause people to lose focus on CBF’s core mission.
“I don’t want the Illumination Project to define us, because we are much, much bigger than that,” she said. “We are about sharing the good news of Jesus by sending field personnel around the world, to empower churches to live into their calling.”
“There are so many good things that happen in the life of CBF,” Capps said. “I hope we will always remember that.”