Recently, with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s decision regarding the Illumination Project, I’ve found myself recalling several stories I’ve heard from my mother. During her time at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the mid-‘80s, she too felt the feelings that I am feeling now, though in somewhat of a different manner. Since being raised by a female Baptist minister, I’ve long acknowledged the importance and significance of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Without their leadership and guidance, my mom would not be serving her twenty-third year in her congregation, and I would not be preparing to graduate Divinity school in two short months. Without the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, there would be many women who have felt the familiar tugs of callings into ministry, who would have found themselves having to do something else, because of the decision from others to discredit the voices of female ministers. Recently, I’ve wondered just where we would be without the voices of our female Baptist ministers. The split from the Southern Baptist Convention, as I’ve heard, was a painful one, yet as we sit on the cusp of three decades later, I fear that the feelings of a new split are upon us.
With CBF’s Illumination Project decision, we are yet again repeating similar narratives from the mid to late ‘80s. CBF’s Illumination Project states that we have adopted a “Christ-centered hiring policy,” yet I find myself among many others wondering what exactly can be Christ-centered if all persons are not welcome to the table. While the hiring policy may have been removed, the implementation procedures are where the true intentions are revealed. Regarding the calling of CBF field personnel, “CBF will send field personnel who have the gifts and life experiences required for the most faithful ministry in the particular setting … and who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man.” This exclusion sounds eerily similar to the Southern Baptist Convention’s belief that “Scripture teaches that a woman’s role is not identical to that of men in every respect, and that pastoral leadership is assigned to men.” Unfortunately, it seems we Baptists have yet to learn from our painful histories of exclusion. I find the outcome of the Illumination Project no different than the Southern Baptist Convention decision to exclude women. In fact, I somehow find it worse, because those of us who are a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship—especially us women, should know exactly the pain that was felt when we were excluded. We as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship should know better and be better because of our painful beginnings of seeking to include women to the pulpit.
Now, we’re facing that same exclusion again, as we refuse to be a part of including those in the LGBTQIA community that God has called. We of all people should know what it means to seek for inclusion for all of our siblings in Christ, as we once sought for that inclusion of women. Yet, we’ve failed. The feelings of hurt, and pain, and anger will continue to linger. We cannot ignore the discrimination and blatant homophobia that is hidden behind the words “Christ-Centered hiring policy.” For a denomination that began on the premise of including those so desperately searching for a chair at the table, we certainly seem to be kicking the legs out from under the chairs that Jesus placed for all. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has been my home for the majority of my life, so it is painful to hear these words, and even more painful to write them. It is my hope, that we Baptists will continue the pattern of dissent, that our local churches will hire those in the LGBTQIA community that have the same callings of sacred holiness, and move towards becoming a Christ-Centered denomination that focuses on the beauty of our differences, given to us by the Creator that has set all of us to love one another.