HISTORY REVISITED

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship 2016 General Assembly Greensboro, North Carolina

by Dr. Pat Griffen, CBFAR Moderator

June 20-24, 2016, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly will convene in Greensboro, N.C. to launch the celebration of its 25th year. Milestone celebrations are significant, a time to reflect, to look back in history, to remember, to commemorate, and to define the course ahead. Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is described as the theologically moderate group of Christians within the Baptist faith that separated from the Southern Baptist Convention over philosophical and theological differences regarding the prohibition of women serving as pastors. Under the umbrella of CBF women are actively involved in ministry as pastors, moderators of state fellowships and currently as the Executive Coordinator. The inclusion of women within CBF has increased exponentially within CBF’s 25 year history.

During my brief history with CBF, I have experienced and participated in discussions, workshops, etc. related to race and sexuality. Topics that are not typically addressed within a Baptist setting, and issues not discussed during the early history of CBF. Personally, having grown up in a conservative Baptist church, this was a liberating experience to witness within a Christian setting. It allowed me to actually be part of an organic process of expanding and widening the role of the church in the lives of individuals and in community. This, of course, continues to be an evolving process.  

Less than five miles, 10 minutes from the Sheraton Hotel Greensboro is the International Civil Rights Center & Museum. This historical site was formerly F. W. Woolworth, an establishment that allowed services to “whites only” at the lunch counter. This historical site is the location of the first sit-in demonstrations that ignited a city, a region and a nation leading to a movement that changed the landscape for equality in our country. After that eventful day on February 1, 1960, America was never the same. Some date this protest movement as the beginning of the civil rights movement.

Is it coincidental that CBF’s General Assembly is convening in Greensboro, North Carolina in 2016? Is it providential that CBF’s General Assembly is convening in Greensboro, North Carolina? Both CBF and the city of Greensboro, North Carolina have a common history, the beginning of a movement that recognized the rights of individuals within a religious context and the civil rights of individuals within a community.

Reflect briefly on the early history of CBF from the lens of the role of women, from the perspective of ethnic/minority participation, the inclusion of diversity within the context of sexual orientation.  Over the years we have become better informed on diverse issues, educated ourselves in these areas, established relationships that have allowed us to deepen our understanding of the richness of God’s creations.

Now in 2016, we are faced with another opportunity to deepen our understanding of an issue that cannot be ignored as we gather for the General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C. Are we educating ourselves about this issue? Have we heard the personal narrative of our Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming kin? Have we read the entirety of North Carolina’s House Bill 2?

If we have started this journey, we have already felt the pain and suffering of those who in many instances have been cast out of the church and in some cases traumatized. If we have started educating ourselves, we are learning of the complexity of the biology of Transgender individuals.  If we have read NCHB2, we have learned that it is not just about bathroom privileges, but contains legislation that proposes to have an effect on such areas as restricting minimum wage increases and child labor protections; there is language that pertains to the right to file claim for discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap.

As individual followers of Christ, our convening in Greensboro is an opportunity to address this issue of HB2 from several perspectives without becoming a part of the political polarization. This provides an opportunity to be good stewards, responsible citizens, to fully educate ourselves on the issues, to read the content of HB2, and better understand our Transgender kin and their struggles in general and not just where they use the restroom.

Moreover, this provides an opportunity to be the “Presence of Christ,” to recognize the complexity of God’s humanity. We do not live in a black and white world. We do not operate within a binary system. Rather, the world we live in could be described and viewed symbolically as a fractal.   

 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
        reflecting our nature
    So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
        the birds in the air, the cattle,
    And, yes, Earth itself,
        and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
    God created human beings;
        he created them godlike,
    Reflecting God’s nature. (Genesis 1: 26ff –The Message Bible).

Let us not only celebrate our history in CBF, but also our humanity and our personhood defined and created by God from the beginning.