Statement to an Adult Sunday School Class at NorthHaven Church in Norman, OK
January 26, 2014
To understand what we are doing, you need to have a broader view of my Christian pilgrimage. This is not the first time that I have made a decision like this.
When I was fifteen years old I went to a youth camp led by Independent Fundamental Baptists -- the Jerry Falwell kind of Baptists. At that camp I felt what I have always believed to be an unmistakable call from God to devote my life to Christian ministry.
Within a week after I made that conviction known to my pastor, I was teaching a Sunday School class for fifth grade boys. I taught that class for two and 1/2 years until, in the middle of my senior year in High School, my pastor called me to his office for a frank discussion. He informed me that unless I stopped attending dances at school, I could no longer serve his church as a Sunday School teacher. We had a long discussion about whether dancing was sinful. We could not come to an agreement.
After that, in good conscience, I was no longer willing to identify myself as an Independent Fundamental Baptist. That was when I became a Southern Baptist and began serving in those churches.
Southern Baptists licensed me to the ministry and they ordained me when I was called to my first pastorate. Southern Baptists also educated me. Before I finished my doctoral degree in 1986, however, Fundamentalists within the SBC had taken over the denomination and began purging it of moderate Baptists.
I was present in Atlanta in 1990, when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was first being formed. That was when, in good conscience, I was no longer willing to identify myself as a Southern Baptist and began to call myself a Cooperative Baptist. I led my church in Houston to identify with CBF. I served on CBF's coordinating council and chaired a committee on Baptist Distinctives.
In 1998 I came to Oklahoma to lead an organization called Mainstream Baptists. Mainstream Baptist organizations around the country grew out of the desire to preserve the Baptist legacy as champions for liberty of conscience, separation of religion and government, and historic Baptist principles. We have always been a movement within moderate Baptist life that was closely affiliated with but not formally united to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. CBF has never supported us financially, but it has been a base of numerical support and moral encouragement.
About fifteen months ago I became uncomfortable with some of the administrative practices at the CBF office in Oklahoma -- an office from which I worked on a daily basis.
I brought some of those practices to the attention of officers within the organization and, at first, some tried to address them informally. When that did not work, they tried to address the issues through more formal processes.
Divisions arose among the officers and leadership of CBFO. National CBF leaders and other organizations associated with CBF got involved. In the process, I observed both state and local CBF leaders become as ruthless as the fundamentalists in their efforts to secure power for themselves and to stifle dissent.
Today, I can no longer in good conscience identify with Cooperative Baptists. When even moderate Baptists refuse to engage in open, honest face-to-face dialogue about breaches of trust and violation of Baptist principles, there is no room left for Baptists like me.
I have come to the end of my walk with Baptists and I am resigning from every institution, board and agency related to Baptists. Even my weblog has the word Baptist crossed out. I am making plans to resign from my position with Mainstream Baptists in a few months. I am as committed to Baptist principles as I ever was, but I have finally been convinced that the label is irredeemable.
Leaving Baptist life presents a problem for me in regard to this church. I am not in the least bit upset with my friends in this church. This church began as a CBF church, but many of its members have no background as Baptists and have minimal commitment to CBF.
Mitch Randall (the pastor) has been one of my strongest allies throughout the past eighteen months. He too has been courageously speaking out for a course correction at CBFO. He is as frustrated and disappointed with what has been happening in CBF and CBFO as I am. His primary responsibility is to serve as pastor and minister to NorthHaven members without regard to their denominational loyalties.
We are not pulling away from Mitch and we are not pulling away from our friendship with you. Kylene and I are going to pull away from the broader fellowship of this church for a while, but we are not pulling out. Our absence will provide a healthy cooling off period for Kylene and I and for the CBF loyalists in this church. We have no intention of moving our membership. Our membership will remain here and we will continue to support this church financially.
I need to get away from everything Baptist and redefine myself as a post-denominational Christian.
I need to spend time making contact with the network of pastors and churches and Christians that I have been working with over the last fifteen years. Most of them are not Baptists. I have been working with them on ecumenical projects, social justice issues, and other concerns while trying to improve the image of Baptists among the broader Christian and interfaith community in Oklahoma.
I intend to continue working with this broader community and I must admit to them that they were right and I was wrong all along about Baptists. I will make it clear to them that I no longer wish to be identified with Baptists. I need to find a way to network with them in the future with a different identity. Kylene needs to be with me during this transition. It is a big transition for her too.
Once I have established my identity in this community and this state as something other than as "Mainstream Baptist" or as "a Moderate Baptist" or as "a Cooperative Baptist," Kylene and I should be able to return to NorthHaven and restore some kind of fellowship with the CBF loyalists in this congregation.
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