On Sunday, Greenwood Forest Baptist Church voted to discontinue funding for Cooperative Baptist institutions until their leadership rescinds a hiring practice discriminatory to LGBTQ people. Below is the letter we sent to the leadership of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Dear Cooperative Baptist Family,
Every week in worship, we pray for the whole church. Specifically, we pray that all of us would remember our baptisms and the Gospel we received. During Lent, we have grieved that our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) has not remembered these things. Our baptisms should unite all of the baptized together inclusive of their beautiful differences. The Gospel we received depends on the welcome God extends to everyone.
When we received the Gospel as Gentiles, Ephesians reminds us we were “once without Christ, being aliens to the commonwealth of Israel,” but that we have “been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:12-13, NRSV). The Gospel is predicated on welcome. Paul in Galatians reminds us, “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:27-28). Our baptisms are predicated on welcome.
Unfortunately, recent decisions by the CBF have not been predicated on welcome.
We have cherished our relationship with the CBF for many years. We have appreciated the home it has provided for Baptists like us. We value the family that exists within the CBF between clergy, lay people, and churches of all sorts. We appreciate most the insistence at the heart of CBF life that some Baptists should not be second-class Christians because of their gender. That is why it pained us so much when the results of the Illumination Project sullied and tarnished the very things we held dear about this Fellowship.
For eighteen years, the CBF maintained a discriminatory policy against LGBTQ people in both funding and hiring. For eighteen years, many lay people and clergy alike sought to end this discrimination. For eighteen years, we hoped that the CBF would reject this discrimination because it flew in the face of the Gospel and our baptisms. When the Illumination Project was announced, many of us were excited because we thought this dark period had come to an end. We incorrectly assumed the Illumination Project might call us to faithfulness and theological rigor. Instead, the Illumination Project pursued a unity predicated not on faithfulness but practicality. Instead of calling us to embrace our differences in the name of Jesus, the Illumination Project sought the false peace of the status quo.
Even though the new hiring policy makes no mention of sexuality and there appears to be no explicit policy that prohibits funding LGBTQ-affirming organizations, there remains a deliberate and public practice to discriminate against LGBTQ people in hiring for positions within the CBF. The “implementation procedure” in the Illumination Project’s report outlines this plan. We have been told that most positions are open to LGBTQ people, but most is not enough. Any discrimination is too much discrimination. That discrimination against LGBTQ people extends specifically to many leadership positions and all field personnel is particularly egregious.
What if one of our children comes out as LGBTQ and God calls them to be a missionary? 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.
We invite the CBF to consider their core values. The Fellowship prides itself on rejecting discrimination toward women in ministry—why should it now direct that same discrimination toward LGBTQ people? What would we say if the CBF banned women from holding leadership and field personnel positions? What if the CBF banned non-white folks from these positions? We would not stand by and allow CBF to relegate them to second-class status—to say that their baptism is somehow worth less than that of others. We should not stand by when it happens to our LGBTQ siblings.
Leadership in the CBF has consistently attempted to pass the justification for this decision onto our global partners. Again, we would ask the same questions—would we tolerate discrimination globally if it were to anyone other than our LGBTQ siblings? We certainly would not. We recognize that there is not consensus on inclusion, but we should have a conversation about what is faithful not what is institutionally convenient.
Our congregation tries its best to be an inclusive community of faith. One of the core values of our church is to be openly welcoming of all people, inclusive of differences in age, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, and background. We believe that all people have important gifts to share with our church and that they all have a place in God’s family. We do not always succeed when it comes to this value, and we are not always the best at living this value. But it is what we measure ourselves against. This core value is also what we measure our ministry partners against, including our denominational partners.
Our community of faith calls the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to change course on LGBTQ discrimination. We ask, specifically, that the CBF rescind and reject in its entirety the “implementation procedure” detailed in the Illumination Project report and all discrimination against LGBTQ people. We will be withholding all our regular giving to Cooperative Baptist institutions until leadership in the CBF changes course. We also invite other churches in the Fellowship to do the same.
We have not come to this decision lightly. We count many in the Fellowship and the CBF itself as our dear friends. However, we believe that intervention is required on this point. We have tolerated discrimination against many of the people in our pews for far too long. As a church, we repent of where we have failed to call our CBF family to account. Eighteen years was already far too long to wait for change and any longer is inexcusable.
The truth is that our LGBTQ siblings received the same Gospel and baptism as all Christians and have unique, God-given gifts without which our Fellowship is impoverished. God works in and through the LGBTQ people who lead in churches across the country and the world. Throughout history, God has acted through LGBTQ people to bring about God’s vision for the world. And God’s vision for the world includes all the people in our pews. We are calling on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to recognize that truth.
We will continue to be engaged in CBF life, calling our faith family to the welcome of the Gospel. We will continue to come to gatherings and engage in talks, calling the CBF to remember our baptisms. We will continue to advocate for change; should that change come about, we will joyously resume full partnership with the CBF. We are not abandoning the Fellowship, but calling it to embrace the welcome of the Gospel we have all received.
Grace and peace,
Greenwood Forest Baptist Church