Every year, for the past 10 years, Rev. Maurice Blanchard has tried to offer workshops on LGBTQ inclusion to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. And every year, he says, he has been rejected. CBF, an umbrella organization for 1,800 churches, has historically viewed homosexuality as sinful.
But that could soon change, and a review of the anti-LGBTQ policy is threatening to splinter Southern Baptist organizations. As CBF weighs embracing LGBTQ hiring, some organizations with overlapping membership are threatening to kick out CBF-affiliated churches.
“I’m not surprised by it, but I’m disappointed,” Blanchard told INTO. Blanchard isa gay Baptist and a Kentucky plaintiff in the Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.
A six-person CBF committee called the Illumination Project has explored changing the policy since June 2016. They are expected to make recommendations in February.
As a result, Kentucky Baptist Convention, a Louisville-based organization voted in mid-November to monitor CBF. According to Paul Chitwood, Executive Director of KBC, volunteers will compile statement CBF’s statements on the policy.
“That is a lifestyle that does not exemplify Christian teachings,” said Chitwood. “This isn’t a new position the belief. … These aren’t new teachings for the church.”
Chris Sanders, interim executive coordinator of CBF in Kentucky could not be reached for comment, but told The Courier-Journal that CBF was surprised by KBC’s vote.
“We didn’t have any discussions with them about it,” he said. “We would have much rather talked with them in advance.”
According to Chitwood, just 45 of its 2,400 churches belong to CBF and of those only 31 are active paying members.
But CBF’s move raises questions for affiliated churches in other states. Many Baptist churches belong to the progressive CBF but maintain membership in other denominational organizations. Blanchard notes that churches in Georgia and South Carolina are also facing backlash over embracing LGBTQ people.
“That’s a big thing to have a major denominational organization rescind a policy like this,” said Blanchard.
Still, church autonomy is a key tenant of the faith. Blanchard, argues that autonomy is what is at stake for Southern Baptist churches. His own church, Highland Baptist, left CBF at the time of his ordination he says, “for obvious reasons.” He’s not looking for a job under the new policy he said. “But, the door should be open for anybody, no matter their sexuality.”