Updated March 22 to include comments from CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter.
A North Carolina church noted for its involvement in an immigration dispute has voted to withhold funds from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as long as the 1,800-church organization continues to discriminate in employment based on sexual orientation.
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, N.C., voted March 18 to protest a CBF practice begun in February that opens doors to the hiring of LGBTQ Christians to some, but not all, positions at the CBF global headquarters in Decatur, Ga.
“We have been told that most positions are open to LGBTQ people, but most is not enough,” said an open letter sent to media and posted on the church website. “Any discrimination is too much discrimination.”
CBF leaders recently stood alongside the congregation in its unsuccessful bid to halt deportation of longtime church member Gilles Bikindou, a 58-year-old native of Republic of Congo detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in January and deported the following month.
Stephen Reeves, the CBF’s associate coordinator of partnerships and advocacy, praised Pastor Lauren Efird and members of Greenwood Forest as “incredible, faithful and inspirational advocates on behalf of their brother” during a prayer vigil pleading for Bikindou’s humanitarian release Feb. 21.
“We need more people of faith like the members of Greenwood Forest Baptist Church to stand up and act for justice, and we need our elected officials and government leaders to listen and act,” Reeves said in comments published on the CBF blog.
Asked to respond to Greenwood Forest’s action, CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter told BNG, “It is our practice to not give comment to the press about partner churches. In honoring our relationship with churches, we engage in direct personal conversation with pastors and leaders when concerns arise.”
In its open letter, the congregation asks CBF to “rescind and reject in its entirety” a plan to implement a new policy that drops an 18-year-old ban on the conscious hiring of a “practicing homosexual” as staff or missionary personnel.
While the new policy “uses Christ-centered language” and “contains no language about sexuality,” according to an article in the church bulletin March 11, an accompanying implementation plan “maintains anti-LGBTQ discrimination” and “expressed clear and obvious intent to maintain it in practice.”
“We can no longer allow our money to fund an institution that maintains discriminatory practices against our LGBTQ family or fund ministry jobs in which they are not welcome,” Efird said in a sermon leading up to the vote. “We will invite other churches to come alongside us and do the same.”
Chartered in 1963, Greenwood Forest was the first church in its community to integrate its preschool and to ordain a female deacon. When fundamentalism took over the Southern Baptist Convention during the 1980s, the church’s pastor helped draft the founding document for what is today the Alliance of Baptists.
Greenwood Forest aligned with the newly formed CBF in 1991 and ended ties with the SBC in 2002. Efird, the current pastor, attended seminary at a CBF partner school. The church averages about 175 in Sunday morning worship and has an annual budget of $900,000.
Greenwood Forest said in the open letter the congregation is particularly concerned about the Fellowship’s intent to limit leadership positions and field personnel to persons “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man.”
“What if one of our children comes out as LGBTQ and God calls them to be a missionary?” the letter asked. “What if God calls one of our LGBTQ members to be a denominational leader? What should we tell them about the CBF? Should we say that their identity means that they experienced a second-class baptism? The Gospel and baptism we received does not make anyone into second-class Christians. Yet, this is precisely what CBF procedure tries to do.”
The new hiring policy and implementation plan, approved by the CBF Governing Board Feb. 9, culminated a 20-month Illumination Project intended to model a way for Baptists to remain in fellowship amid principled disagreement over issues like the church’s response to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The outcome has largely disappointed churches, like Greenwood Forest, that were hoping for full inclusion of LGBTQ members. At the same time, it prompted Southern Baptist state conventions in Virginia and Texas to end CBF funding, because they regard sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman as inconsistent with scripture.
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