Homosexuality continues to divide our churches and our culture as differing Baptist groups discern a biblical response to changing societal norms.
In what was an otherwise quiet convention meeting in Louisville, a motion during the morning session may have produced some intrigue, but not controversy. Somerset pastor Ed Amundson sought to authorize a standing committee to monitor the moral and theological positions of the 1,800-church Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and determine whether dually-aligned congregations should remain in good standing with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Unless you’ve been following the Fellowship’s ongo-ing discussions over dropping its 17-year-old policy against hiring gays, some KBC messengers probably were left wondering just what Amund-son’s motion was all about. His concern focuses on a six-member Illumination Project Committee—appointed in 2016 and comprised of CBF Governing Board members—that has been tasked with exploring how the Fellowship can remain united despite holding diverse opinions on homosexuality.
Committee chair Charlie Fuller, pastor of First Baptist Church in Washington D.C., has stated that the group “will not be telling any church what they are to do regarding this matter or any other.” And, in July, a task force member asserted that their goal was not to change anyone’s mind about whether or not homosexuality is a sin. “We don’t agree about this,” said Steve Wells. “When we’re done, we’re still not going to agree about this.”
Yet, among other tasks, Fuller’s committee is now expected to bring specific proposals in February regarding the CBF’s policy against hiring homosexuals. Meanwhile, nearly 600 people, including several former CBF moderators, have signed an online petition calling for the Fellowship to “remove its discriminatory hiring poli-cy,” which, according to the group’s governing docu-ments, forbids “the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the send-ing of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.”
In recent years, the CBF’s hiring policy has come under in-creasing criticism from younger, progressive voices, who say it is out-dated and discriminatory against LGBT members. Traditionalists, how-ever, maintain that shifting to a welcoming-and-affirming stance on ho-mosexuality could cause the CBF to lose the support of its more con-servative congregations.
Of six new “personas’ recently added to the commit-tee’s original five personality profiles representing the types of people who participate in the fellowship, all but one reflect a concern that a forthcoming decision on homosexuality could divide the Fellowship. A section added to one profile stated, “On this issue, some church-es will leave. If you change the hiring policy, some people won’t support sending missionaries who are in sin.”
Likewise, a growing concern among Kentucky Baptists that the CBF will change its hiring practices prompted Amundson’s motion at the KBC annual meeting. “We’ve all sinned and welcome every kind of sinner into our churches,” Amundson said. “In fact, we love them and want them to come. But the issue here is redefining what the Bible calls sin to say that it isn’t,” he explained.
Specifically in question are 45 of 51 Kentucky churches listed on the CBF’s website that are also affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Of those, only 31 have contributed financially in recent years. Last year, approximately $339,000 was contributed to the Coop-erative Program by those 31 churches combined, according to KBC offi-cials. “Though I’m confident some of those churches would not identify themselves as CBF churches even though CBF claims them,” noted KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood.
A large majority of Kentucky Baptists espouse the belief that God de-fined marriage very clearly in Genesis as uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. Hence, KBC churches will not marry homosexual or transgendered people, nor ordain and allow them to serve in church leadership or as missionaries. In fact, Baptists are among the most resistant to LGBT inclusion among U.S. Protestant groups, according to new data from LifeWay Research.
In a 2015 resolution, SBC messengers declared “that South-ern Baptists recognize that no governing institution has the authority to negate or usurp God’s definition of marriage” and “no matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and pub-lic beliefs concerning marriage.”
While Southern Baptists embrace the principles of local church au-tonomy and the priesthood of individual believers, these principles do not trump biblical authority. And, even as the principle of autonomy grants a local church the right to freely define its beliefs and select its leaders, it also gives an association or convention the right to determine if a church’s decision sets it outside their fellowship. Depending on the CBF’s course, these cherished Baptist principles again could be put to the test when the KBC meets in Paducah next Novem-ber, and these 45 churches—and individual mem-bers—may have to make a choice.