By Bob Allen
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal defended the organization’s 12-year-old ban on hiring gays in a statement March 8.
“Except for a small handful of Baptist churches, the vast majority of churches that partner within CBF will not call/hire/ordain a practicing gay/lesbian Christian as pastor or ministering staff member,” Vestal said. “It is because of our desire both to serve these churches and extend their ministry around the world that CBF does not ‘allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.’”
Vestal’s statement was in response both to recent comments critical of the policy by moderator Colleen Burroughs and concerns expressed that an upcoming conference on sexuality co-sponsored by CBF and Mercer University might divide moderate Baptists over homosexuality.
Vestal, who retires this summer after more than 15 years, said that neither he nor anyone else speaks for the Fellowship.
“My own conviction is that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness,” he said. “However, there are those in CBF who have a different conviction, and I respect and love them as I hope they do me. I also believe it is possible for Baptists who have convictional differences to cooperate together in missions and ministry, as we honor the freedom of one another’s conscience.”
Vestal said the April 19-21 [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., is being done “because we want to create a space for conversation among Baptists on a broad range of issues related to human sexuality.”
“The context of the conference is that churches are facing serious challenges to their prophetic and pastoral witness, including challenges to the institution of marriage, increasing promiscuity and a pervasive permissiveness in American culture,” Vestal said. “I can think of no more ‘Baptist’ thing to do than to speak freely and lovingly in community as we each seek to define our own Christian sexual ethic.”
Vestal said the conference will represent “a broad cross section of the Baptist family” and that all are welcome. “CBF seeks to embrace this kind of conversation and not run from it,” he said. “God expects us to minister to people who are facing these challenges.”