January 7, 2019
To the editor:
I’m a CBF Baptist through and through. CBF nurtured me when I was an undergraduate studying theology and still does today as a senior pastor. My relationship with CBF isn’t roses and rainbows, but they’re my family.
I’m also a progressive Christian. I think LGBTQ Christians are responsible to serve Christ just as all Christians are, and I think my church is responsible to equip and enlist them to do so.
This makes me a minority in CBF. I’m comfortable with that. CBF is a mission-sending organization, and we’re better off drawing support from as many churches as we can to do the work of Christ.
I’m deeply grateful for the fallible family this broadness gives me on both ends of the spectrum. My denominational experience is richer and fuller, and I’m a better Christian because of the diversity. At the same time, as a progressive, there’s a small part of me that longs for the CBF that exists in the minds of some other pastors across the country. For example, this opinion article published Jan. 3 at baptistnews.com surprised me: Caught in the middle: Is there still a place for Centrist Baptists like me?
Like the writer, I too suspect the center is eroding in America. But in the CBF today, it’s still the largest group, and by a long shot. I think the writer’s perception of a shrinking middle is symptomatic of a larger challenge in our culture that is playing out in Baptist circles as well. Arguably, the Evangelical Christian majority isn’t what it once was. And for the old guard, it feels like marginalization.
Yet, Centrists still command the majority in CBF life. Just look at how CBF National tried to accommodate them with the Illumination Report and its implementation plan that left almost no one pleased. Even that compromise sent many in the center-right elsewhere – all because CBF National thinks LGBTQ persons are capable of serving as secretaries and assistants and all manner of other non-ministry positions. Some on the left are leaving too, but count the dollars these churches are taking with them in comparison to funding withdrawn by the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and it’s quickly evident how little influence the left exerts.
Centrists are the power brokers in CBF whether they acknowledge it or not. I don’t lament this, because again, I appreciate the diversity that CBF offers. But I grow frustrated with mostly older white men complaining to each other about how hard it is for them to fit in as Centrists as they sit on every major CBF committee.
CBF is a broad tent organization. Like an actual tent, those on the edges are most vulnerable to the elements. As they are pelted with rain, it grows more difficult to convince CBF’s farthest left and right to stay in the tent. The tarp doesn’t provide the coverage we’d like, but most of us still think it’s worth it. However, when those in the middle of the tent, warm and protected, bemoan the state of the tent and whether there’s enough room for themselves, well, then it does get just a little harder. Still, my hope is that even in this we can find solidarity.