By David Roach
DECATUR, Ga. — The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Governing Board has voted to lift the Fellowship’s “absolute prohibition” of hiring homosexual and transgender employees.
But CBF “leadership positions in ministry” and missionary roles still will be limited to individuals “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and man,” according to a hiring “implementation procedure” also adopted by the Governing Board. Other positions will be open to “Christians who identify as LGBT.”
The new hiring policy and implementation procedure — adopted Feb. 9 at a CBF Governing Board meeting in Decatur, Ga. — replace the previous CBF hiring policy, which prohibited “the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.”
The 16-member Governing Board’s vote is binding and does not require approval by the annual CBF General Assembly.
The policy change was recommended by a seven-member Illumination Project Committee appointed in 2016 to chart a unified path forward for the CBF amid diverse views on human sexuality.
The CBF was founded in 1991 as a fellowship of churches that objected to the ideology and methods of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Conservative Resurgence.
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter underscored CBF leaders’ intent to unify the Fellowship.
“CBF is moving from a hiring policy focused exclusively on sexuality to a policy that focuses on Jesus and His work to transform the world,” Paynter said according to a CBF news release. “We are a Fellowship, a big tent of faithful believers and autonomous, innovative churches in partnership. While we do not agree on everything, we have shown Baptists and others that we can come together in a relatively short amount of time, focus on what unites us and come out of it poised for a bright future.”
According to the Illumination Project Committee’s 43-page report, the new hiring policy — which does not mention human sexuality — and the implementation policy are intended to reflect the faith and practice of CBF churches.
“The overwhelming majority of our congregations do not have policy statements or proclamations focused on matters of human sexuality, either in a congregationally adopted hiring policy or in other places,” the committee stated. “In proposing a hiring policy that does not include treatment of matters of human sexuality, we believe we are reflecting and respecting not only what we have heard from our autonomous local congregations, but also what we see in their lives.”
The report adds, however, “at this time in CBF life, less than a handful of our congregations have called pastors who identify as LGBT. Likewise, in the implementation of the hiring policy, the CBF office in Decatur will reflect the actual practice of most of our congregations.”
CBF “global partners” in ministry, the report states, “have decisively rejected movement toward hiring or supporting LGBT field personnel or the inclusion of LGBT persons in ordained leadership.” The implementation procedure for missionary hiring “reflects and respects” that reality.
The CBF’s decision to lift its absolute ban of hiring homosexual and transgender individuals has drawn diverse reactions from within the Fellowship — and predictions that churches on both sides of the ideological spectrum could break ties with the CBF.
“The reality is that we’re liable to lose some churches — on the left and on the right,” Steve Wells, a Houston pastor who served on the CBF committee that recommended revising the Fellowship’s hiring policy, told Texas’ Baptist Standard newsjournal. “I really don’t believe it will be that many.”
Southern Baptist leaders who responded to the news included Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, and Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
“It is important that in a world that is very confused about the truth that we have biblical clarity,” Davis said.
“The Bible is very clear on the subject of marriage. The Tennessee Baptist Convention has made it very clear that we align with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 confessional statement,” he added.
Mohler predicted a severe division within the CBF, writing in an online commentary it “was evident from the beginning” that “the LGBT revolution would be the fuse that would detonate the CBF.”