Pastors of at least two Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches say they are reconsidering affiliation with the 1,800-church network in light of a decision by CBF leaders to relax, but not totally lift, a ban on hiring LBGTQ people.
Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., called a new policy that bans married persons who are LGBTQ from working as missionaries or in supervisory positions “unjust” and one that “reinforces bigotry towards LGBTQ people.”
Griffen, who preached at the CBF General Assembly in 2013 and served on the search committee that recommended Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter as the first woman to lead the Fellowship, said in a pastoral letter that he no longer supports CBF funding or participation and will ask his church to meet and discuss the new policy.
“Plainly, CBF and New Millennium Church disagree about LGBTQ equality and inclusion,” Griffen said. “The Illumination Project process and the CBF decision … proves that CBF does not choose to be, plan to be, or desire to be walking with LGBTQ people and with us concerning this love and justice imperative.”
Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen, co-pastors of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, said they “are angry, disappointed and deeply distressed” by last Friday’s decision by the CBF Governing Board.
“We would imagine that in the coming weeks and months, our congregation will seek intentional conversations about our broader Baptist affiliations in light of this decision and how to demonstrate our commitments in word and in deed,” the married couple said in a pastoral letter to church members.
Sarratt and Swearingen, who are lesbians and whose calling last year to Calvary Baptist Church as co-pastors made national headlines, took exception to a statement that in part justifies exclusion of LGBTQ persons from some CBF staff positions because few CBF churches hire them as pastors.
They called that rationale “an effort to maintain a false narrative that if your churches really don’t have many LGBTQ+ people, you don’t need to worry about affirming them.”
“Be assured, we are in your churches,” the co-pastors said. “We are bearing the weight of your violence.”
Founded in 1862, Calvary Baptist Church affiliates with the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, in addition to CBF.
Last summer CBF leaders traveled to Little Rock to show solidarity with Wendell Griffen, who is also a circuit judge, during controversy over his participation in an anti-death penalty demonstration while presiding in a case involving a drug used for execution by lethal injection.
“I will not support continued funding or involvement in CBF initiatives,” Griffen said in his pastoral letter. “CBF has chosen love of its purses above love of God’s LGBTQ people. I am unwilling to follow that path as pastor of New Millennium Church.”
“If our congregation is to keep faith with the love and justice imperatives in the gospel of Jesus, we should not be seduced by claims about following Jesus to carry out the Great Commandments and Great Commission by a body that consciously and proudly celebrates a decision to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status,” Griffen said.