In the wake of a General Assembly in which progress is being celebrated on bettering the relationship of the CBF with the LGBTQ community, with the announcement of the Illumination project and the statement in the wake of Orlando, I want to feel some joy, but I can’t help but feel some sense of reservation. Everywhere I looked, I saw nametags showing solidarity with the LGBTQ community, and a statement making the rounds on social media rapidly garnered hundreds of names of individuals willing to take a stand while also showing they were committed to remaining with the CBF in this effort. It gives me hope, and I think we’re finally making moves in the right direction, but, I can’t celebrate, not yet. Three particular issues stand out to me in reflecting on the week.
First, I would like to respond to the argument that, in light of our Baptist distinctives of soul liberty and congregational autonomy, this is really a minor issue. Suzii Paynter pointed to the fact that individuals and churches are empowered to make their own decisions regarding issues of sexuality, and thus matters such as the hiring policy actually only affect a small portion of LGBTQ persons within CBF. The hiring policy is not insignificant in the face of soul liberty, it is all the more perplexing and frustrating because of it. If we truly stand for the historic Baptist commitment to the priesthood of the believer, then why would a belief of one particular group be implemented as an official hiring policy among the body’s leadership? Why not allow the individuals who work for CBF the same opportunity for soul liberty and the expression of their true selves that you purport to afford all members of the Fellowship? While the hiring policy remains, there at the very least is the appearance of a disconnect between the leadership and the constituency of the CBF.
Another argument I’ve heard frequently is that the CBF is young and these things take time. I concede that I’m a young, impatient, idealistic, naïve seminarian, but that argument holds little water with myself or others of my generation. One would be hard-pressed to have spent more than five minutes at this particular General Assembly without becoming aware of this being the CBF’s 25th year of existence. I understand that in a body this large, with a constituency spanning the theological spectrum, dealing with sexuality issues will be difficult and will take time, but to take a quarter of a century to finally decide to even hold a sustained conversation is simply too long. The Alliance of Baptists came into existence in 1987. By 1992, the group had established its Task Force on Human Sexuality, with the intent of fostering conversation and developing resources for churches. In Doug Dortch’s address as the incoming moderator on Friday morning, he referred frequently to these “issues” which need to be addressed. Not once did he make direct reference to the LGBTQ community. After 25 years, we are hesitant to even name the subject which needs to be addressed beyond the protective walls of a breakout session.
Finally, I would like to address the sentiment that there is more momentum behind such a discussion than there has been at any point previously. In one session, it was said that it is “Time to strike while the iron is hot.” It’s not. The iron has been cooling for some time now. The CBF missed the moment to strike while the iron was hot in 1991 and every year since. In the adoption of the hiring policy in 2001 and the decision to withhold money from mission organizations supporting LGBTQ equality, the CBF made a conscious choice against striking while the iron was hot. The consistent mantra of patience and the myth of time show a willingness to wait for the iron to cool before action is taken. We have the opportunity to be both pastoral and prophetic, and I respect that the CBF feels the need to provide a pastoral presence for the broad spectrum of churches across the denomi-network, but we have emphasized the pastoral at the expense of our right to call the CBF prophetic or innovative. It is not prophetic to begin a conversation on the possibility of taking a stand in the wake of 49 LGBTQ persons being gunned down in a nightclub. That’s not striking while the iron is hot, that’s noticing the piece of iron on the scrap heap after forgetting about it for 25 years.
A particular Clarence Jordan quote comes to mind. Recounting an exchange with a fellow preacher who once said, “Clarence, we’ve just got to lay low on this thing and let it all blow over and when it all blows over, then you can afford to take a stand on it,” Jordan replied, “Do you feel that way about sin in general? Are you going to wait until sin just blows over? Then you’re going to hop up and say, ‘I’m agin’ it!’ Glory be.”
CBF has a decision to make. Will we be a prophetic church? Or will we wait until it is safe to act?