Her name was Goldie Hicks. Goldie was a deacon at the first church I had the honor of serving after graduating seminary, Center Hill Baptist Church in Lexington, N.C. Goldie was an exceptional deacon with a deep love for God and her church. She was long past retirement, but her age was seen as a great source of wisdom.
The church had long had women deacons, and had a decidedly “moderate” ethos, so naturally I believed the church should partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). I knew there would be some resistance to adding CBF to our budget, but believed the church would do well in CBF life. So, in the fall of 2000, I introduced CBF to the congregation.
It was a big surprise to me when Goldie later approached me to ask a pointed question about CBF.
“Layne,” she said, “Isn’t this all about homosexuality?” Of course, I told her it was not.
The CBF was about moderate Baptist life, the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message and the autonomy of the local church, I assured her.
If Goldie were alive today, I wonder what I would have to tell her.
The Illumination Project of the CBF has presented its report, and the Coordinating Council has approved its recommendations. The committee tasked with producing the Illumination Project had a daunting responsibility. They were charged with helping the diverse groups of the CBF hold together despite their entrenched disagreements on the issues of human sexuality. With the goal to find ways to hold the community together, the committee did the best they could possibly do, and they are to be commended for it.
I stand in disagreement with the recommendations of the Illumination Project, however. Frankly, though, I have a profound distaste for denominational strife. I intended to simply and quietly try to find a way forward for my congregation and me. Since the report’s release, however, Baptist news sources have been replete with editorials referring to people who share my opinion as “practicing discrimination” and by implication, as bigoted.
After days of being compared to those who would put up “whites only” signs, I must respond.
The trouble with the Illumination Project is not what it produced, but the strictures by which it was called into being. The committee was formed to protect the unity of the CBF, not to investigate the theological, biblical and doctrinal issues around human sexuality.
Even though the committee notes the overwhelming majority of Cooperative Baptists are committed to the affirmation that Scripture as the primary authority in matters of faith and practice, no investigation into the texts in question are within the pages of the report. Missing are reflections on Romans 1, 1 Timothy 1 and 1 Corinthians 6.
If we are a people who believe in the primacy of the Bible on matters of faith and practice, then why is the Bible excluded on the question at hand?
As I read through the editorials and pastoral letters of those who support the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons into the life of the CBF, several themes emerge. Many see inclusion as a matter of justice. Some argue that full inclusion is a matter of the Great Commandment that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Others argue it is a matter of welcome. Since God welcomes all in Christ, we should not be surprised that God welcomes LGBTQ+ persons. Others suggest the prevention of LGBTQ+ persons serving as missionaries is a violation of the “Four Fragile Freedoms,” and indeed an act of violence.
Still more have even mentioned that word “oppression.” While I have not seen it come up in the recent conversation, there are those who interpret the New Testament texts in question as referring to pederasty, not sexual behavior between two consenting adults.
I have looked at the arguments presented, and I am not convinced.
I believe the Scripture has spoken on the issue. The most egregious move I have seen to undermine what Scripture says on the issue is the misuse of the “Jesus Criterion.”
“Jesus says nothing about homosexuality,” so the argument goes.
Here is the thing. There are many things that Jesus is not recorded to have mentioned. Absence of Jesus speaking about an issue does not mean Jesus approves of a behavior. Trying to say that since the Gospels do not record Jesus speaking about homosexuality, Paul’s admonition should be discounted is vapid.
Further, I believe the church has spoken on the issue. For two thousand years, the church has spoken with one voice on the topic of homosexuality. If what is believed by everyone, everywhere and at every time matters, then this is a settled matter.
From the New Testament forward, there is unanimity of thought on this issue. Only in recent decades have people decided to oppose the Scripture and the church’s consensus. In short, opposition to the church’s stance on the issue is novel and localized to the modern West. It fails the catholicity test.
Moving toward homosexual missionaries and clergy is also schismatic. Across denominations and continents, Christians around the world oppose what the CBF is attempting to normalize. The report itself admits this issue.
Do not think this is a minor point. Breaking faith with partners on this issue can only serve to isolate the CBF.
The change to CBF’s hiring policy is a repudiation of CBF’s roots. CBF emerged as a moderate organization in Baptist life. What is happening is that CBF is becoming a progressive or liberal organization. While many in the CBF welcome this change, it is striking how different this is from where we came.
We considered it libelous, slanderous, that the conservatives in the SBC called professors in our seminaries liberal. Now, we who denied the charge of liberalism at our founding are embracing liberalism just under the label of progressivism. If we are to hold to the term moderate to describe our organization, it must be redefined.
In the early days of our movement, “moderate” usually meant holding to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message or to church autonomy. If we want to use the term moderate, it now must mean, “in agreement with the progressives, but desiring to move slowly enough to avoid controversy.”
I recall during my seminary days SBC leaders used the argument of “denomination drift” to describe what would happen to the CBF and other organizations that were moderate in orientation. The argument was simple, the CBF might now be moderate, but in the long run it will become a liberal organization because what is not structurally conservative will inevitably drift left.
I imagine Paige Patterson and Albert Mohler are somewhere saying, “I told you so.”
The approval of the Illumination Project report by the Coordinating Council is a watershed moment for the CBF.
The responses to the report have been very illuminating. Rarely has anyone ever tried to claim that I am bigoted, or that I am similar to those who would put up “whites only” signs, yet over the last several days, that language has been bandied about for people like me routinely.
I can only conclude that people like me are not wanted within the movement. I would love to be corrected on that point.
From my perspective the CBF is moving into open heresy. I cannot understand why we are determined to move in this direction. I cannot understand what I am expected to tell my local congregation. What I do know is this, that my conscience prevents me from affirming the current direction of the CBF. I cannot and will not violate my conscience.
To the leaders of the CBF, I profoundly disagree with your position. I would advise you, however, to do what you believe is correct. The half measure you have used to try to keep the unity is bound to fail. Do what you believe is right.
I know one more thing. If Goldie Hicks were still living, I would give her a call and say, “I’m sorry.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Layne Wallace is pastor of Rosemary Baptist Church in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.)