Twenty-five years ago many of us who were once upon a time a Southern Baptist had high hopes that the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship would herald the birth of a new community where inclusive Baptist progressivism in America would flourish. In some ways that dream still inspires and influences that movement. For me, that grand vision immediately hit a wall in the 2001 decision to formally exclude faithful and loving Baptist gays from full inclusion in this new experiment in Baptist identity.
I understand all of the reasoning and politics behind that decision. I was there in Atlanta in 2001. I also believe that decision set the CBF on a wrongful course that has come with a high price. I knew that there would never be a home for me there as long as there could not be a home there for LGBTQ Baptists.
Today we who are no longer self-identify with that movement are aware of how fragile and vulnerable this experiment still is. We know how powerful and overwhelming Texas Baptists’ influence still is. We know how much good has been accomplished. We know that there is some wisdom in the argument that individual churches have to set the example and lead the way.
We also know that the CBF, as a corporate community, stumbled and got it all wrong when it failed to act prophetically and graciously in the face of the most pressing civil and human rights issue of this new century.
I believe that grace and forgiveness is yet available for the entire CBF family, though it is never wise to count on being able to appeal for grace on some distant, more convenient, future day. Some individual CBF member churches are today seeking and receiving these precious gifts of grace and forgiveness from the very one’s they once excluded. I encourage many others to follow.
In 2001 the opportunity to lead and be prophetic was lost. Now is a time repentance and an appeal for grace from the LGBTQ community. You may yet see the achievement of the dream and the vision many Baptists craved and hoped would be the lasting heritage of the CBF. This is now not something you can accomplish on your own. It is a gift you must be willing to ask for and receive from the very ones you once marginalized. In this we are all reminded that grace is something we all desperately need as well as something we all desperately need to give.