Pastoral Letter to Members of Calvary Baptist Church Regarding the Recent Hiring Policy Change of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Beloved Ones at Calvary,
Yesterday, the Governing Board of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship voted to approve a recommendation from the Illumination Project regarding a change to their hiring policy. For those of you who grew up connected to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, this may be a story you are well aware of and attuned to. For those of you who didn’t grow up CBF, much less Baptist, this all may sound like another universe to you! We certainly understand and we’re happy to fill in any blanks that we can along the way.
Though much could be said about the initial policy, we’ll keep it brief. Since 2000, the hiring policy barred LGBTQ+ people from working for CBF. Eighteen years later, the hiring policy barring LGBTQ+ people has been removed and in its place is a broader hiring policy, along with an “implementation procedure” (you’ll have to dig a little on pages 20-22 of the document) which, well…still bars LGBTQ+ people from working for CBF in ministry positions. This new plan leaves a potential door open to the possibility of LGBTQ+ people being hired in the future. The plan carries no timetable for that possibility, and very little true change to CBF practice after 18 years of waiting.
This is probably where we ought to conjure the terse, clear, prophetic words of Dr. King to white moderate Christians asking for “more time” as he sat in a prison cell in Birmingham, but we’re not sure how much good it would do. We’re confident that fifty-five years later most folks involved in this decision have read that letter and still find ways to make discriminatory and deadly choices like this one.
Though we value the hard work that many have offered to this process, as pastors of a church committed to LGBTQ+ justice, we think it matters that we make it plain:
We are angry, disappointed, and deeply distressed by this decision.
These last eighteen years between one problematic policy and the next were undoubtedly some of the most formative of our lives. We attended CBF churches, did internships at CBF churches, were ordained by CBF churches, and ministered at CBF churches. We even met and fell in love at a CBF church. We’re grateful for each experience, and we’ve seen God’s transformative work in many of these communities of faith. Even still, the cognitive dissonance, the exhaustion, and the isolation of serving a larger institution that insidiously and persistently refuses to value one’s humanity is difficult to articulate fully. Let’s just say, it takes its toll.
We offer a few reflections for now, some for us as one community and some for the wider Baptist community, as we continue to absorb this news alongside our community of faith, some of them deeply committed to CBF who pray that someway, somehow, it would choose justice over paltry claims of “unity.”
First, while all people may be equal, all opinions are not equal, nor should they be given an equal place at the table. This is a morally debilitating myth we keep telling each other to pacify conflicts and coddle our fears over disagreement and loss. Jesus did not think all opinions were equal. Jesus’ witness and example demonstrates that the opinions, better yet the lives, of the dispossessed were worthy of more time and attention than calculating mathematically equal air-time for everyone. The fact that we think decision-making in light of the gospel of liberation should look like “equally valid opinions getting equal time” is not only absurd, it is a striking example of the “banality of evil,” as Hannah Arendt describes it.
Second, hiding discriminatory behavior and policy behind a belief as profound as the autonomy of the local church is deeply problematic and ahistorical. It contradicts the intent of our Baptist ancestors to resist powers within the Church that mimicked imperial and colonial systems. This policy actively restricts the activities and callings of the individual LGBTQ+ Christians among us who feel called to do Christ’s work in the world. It belittles their struggles and hard fought battles to understand their belovedness, pushes an oppressive theology on their lives, and inherently claims that the priesthood of all believers does not include them.
Autonomy of the local church is not some mucky individualism that means every church can think and do and oppress however it wants. Autonomy of the local church is a powerful reminder and public witness that autonomous churches, freed by the Spirit from the constraints of the state, can stand against, confront, and resist systemic oppression, wherever it is to be found.
Third, some of you in Baptist life may hear others make the argument that no organization can be completely pure when it comes to issues of justice. They’ll say things like “even if CBF misses the mark here, look at all this other important justice work happening.” Don’t be fooled. Don’t be fooled by words like “cooperation” and “moderation” and “diversity of viewpoints.” Don’t be fooled by some leaders who will use their platforms right now to extol the value of patience and unity amidst diversity. It may be true that we can’t be justice-purists, but we sure can choose to be justice-seekers when given the opportunity. It’s not militant or disrespectful or polarizing to call out when those doing good work in one arena falter in another. It’s necessary.
Fourth, we find it both curious and deeply problematic that the language in the document seems to sit somewhere between implying if not outright claiming that “global partners” are keeping CBF from fully affirming LGBTQ+ people. As if 500 years of colonial Christian history didn’t include the exportation of violent theology all over the world in service to Empire. As if the global church isn’t as theologically complex as the American church. As if LGBTQ+ people don’t live in Uganda and Romania and Colombia. And as if white Christians in the U.S. have not been complicit, often leading the way when it comes to inscribing exclusionary policies like this one.
Fifth, to all LGBTQ+ Baptists across the country and around the world, know that we at Calvary Baptist Church see you. We hear you. We trust you. We love you. You are a wonder in the universe, more powerful than implementation procedures that distort your humanity, shining lights much brighter than any illumination project ever can. The Church will either experience a joyful conversion or the Church as we know it will continue rotting to the core. Know that we’re doing all we can to invite conversion and to resurrect a Church that is worthy of you. To members of our congregation who have walked with CBF amidst these deliberations, we love you, we are grateful for you, and we choose to walk with you no matter the road ahead. You are courageous to keep pressing in; stay that way now more than ever.
And finally, to any CBF leaders who pressed for an “implementation procedure” that maintains a theology of violence, that codifies discrimination in your record books, and that sullies your witness to the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ, we invite you to take a long, hard look at the picture above. It’s two of yours. You might have explored statistics in your deliberations indicating that most CBF churches do not currently have LGBTQ+ pastors on staff, we presume somehow in an effort to maintain a false narrative that if your churches really don’t have many LGBTQ+ people, you don’t need to worry about affirming them. Be assured. We are in your churches. We are bearing the weight of your violence. We are dreaming up a new Church, one that the walls of oppression cannot and will not contain, one that we’d still invite you to, even after all this.
We would imagine that in the coming weeks and months, our congregation will seek intentional conversations about our broader Baptist affiliations in light of this decision and how to demonstrate our commitments in word and in deed. If this year in our national narrative has demonstrated anything, it’s that being clear about where you stand, how you stand, and who you stand with actually matters. The moral center of a whole country, a whole world, is at stake.
Clear eyes, full hearts, no matter the losses,
Pastor Maria + Pastor Sally