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Friday, June 27, 2008

"Young" CBFers Issue Open Letter to Cecil Sherman

Here is the full text version of the Open Letter written about in the ABP article by Vicki Brown titled "Young CBFers, responding to Sherman, call for end to bitter anti-SBC rhetoric." Thus far, I believe I am the only person to post the full text of this document called an Open Letter. It's short and sweet. A few assertions are made but few facts are provided. I don't think a "misguided" analogy qualifies as a "conversation" that is "center stage" much less the focus of who [CBF is ] or what they do."

A group of young leaders within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship movement has issued the following statement regarding remarks by former CBF Coordinator Cecil Sherman at the 2008 General Assembly:

Open Letter to Dr. Cecil Sherman

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dear Dr. Sherman,

For your work and ministry, we are sincerely grateful. You helped harness the energy of those who chose to leave the Southern Baptist Convention when certain leaders were ousted through manipulative and unethical means. You helped to create a new family of faith, a new movement now known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We are grateful for your risk-taking and your leadership.

After receiving recognition for your recently published book last Thursday at the CBF General Assembly in Memphis, Tennessee, you juxtaposed our relatively small amount of pain – where no one was injured or killed – to the six million killed in the Holocaust. In our opinion and the opinions of many others, your analogy was misguided. These words are old rhetoric that we will no longer accept in our midst. The SBC has chosen one path and the CBF another. We no longer have energy to focus on this separation, but rather turn our attention to a suffering world.

Though the wounds of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC are nothing in comparison to the Holocaust, we recognize those wounds are real. They are also wounds that need healing, and for some the grieving process is not over yet. We respect that and want to allow a place for conversations about our past. Of course remembering what happened will help us avoid repeating mistakes. But we will no longer wish for this conversation to have center stage – nor be the focus of who we are and what we do.

Young Baptist leaders are ready to embrace new opportunities for ministry and discipleship. Remembering the past but not dwelling on it, many Baptist are excited and enthusiastic about ministering with the most neglected people around the world. Some of these most neglected include descendants of those people-groups who were targeted for extermination in the Holocaust.

So with deep respect for your work and sacrifice for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, we invite you to lay down the pain of the past and join us as we focus on a future, bright with possibility.

Respectfully submitted,

David Burroughs, President, Passport, Inc.

Rev. R. Scott Ford, Associate Coordinator for Missions, CBF of Georgia

Rev. Nikki Hardeman, Associate Coordinator for Congregational Life, CBF of Georgia

Jeremy Lewis, Together for Hope Manager, CBF

Rev. Brent McDougal, Coordinator of Alabama CBF

Rev. Christina Whitehouse-Suggs, Associate Coordinator for Congregational Life, CBF South Carolina

Mike Young, Associate Coordinator for Missions, Tennessee CBF

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Blogger texasinafrica said...

This conversation is long overdue in CBF life. Part of the panic among older CBF-ers about the loss of younger generations is that they fear that we don't understand what they endured. But what gets missed in that is how off-putting it is to young adults to be constantly rehashing the battles that occurred when we were children. Good for Burroughs et al for framing it in a respectful, forward-looking manner.

12:38 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Well, you understand. Others understand. Unfortunately, I can offer at least a few names of active "young" Baptists who don't understand. So, I'm not convinced. But that's not my point. If a young person is truly interested in being Baptist, they'll have an appreciation for their history and heritage and hopefully seek to learn more about that. I think the New Baptist Covenant proved that there are many young Baptists like that - looking to the future but not remembering our history.

At the CBF level, I really don't see battles being rehashed. If Burroughs had provided an example or two that would have been helpful. I just don't think a 80 year old Baptist leader accepting an award for his contributions and making a party-foul type comment about the SBC puts the old battles "center stage." I'm not against open letters. But if those 7 are interested in having a conversation with substance, they need find a venue to begin a real dialogue. Issuing an open letter that never made it to the blogosphere or to a website probably isn't the way to go.

Burroughs wrote:

"The SBC has chosen one path and the CBF another."

That's true. But while there is indeed an institutional separation, there has never been a real separation between all moderates/mainstream/CBFers and Southern Baptists. But so many moderates still go to church with Southern Baptists and work with Southern Baptists at the associational and state convention levels. CBFers everywhere admire the work of the CLC. But your good friend, the director of the CLC and CBF Coordinating Council member, runs an organization has a constituency that is overwhelming Southern Baptist. Notice the authors of this letter are from places like GA,SC and AL where moderates have no influence and little if any involvement at the state level. Their separation from Southern Baptists has long been complete. But Texas Baptists who care about the future of their state convention don't have that option.

This is a bit of a ramble. However, I'm trying to say that I don't see this on-going dwelling on of past battles taking place like Burroughs alleges. When I lived across the street from CBF in Atlanta, I spent time with a few McAfee profs, students and was even around the occasional CBF staff member. I just don't remember the SBC being an item of discussion. Now, here in Texas, you'll hear more about the SBC because last year there was a BGCT presidential candidate who stated that he would like to "stop the drift away from the SBC toward the CBF."

I think in a lot of ways the authors of this letter are coming from different perspectives due to their location. None are located in the big moderate states like Virginia or Texas.

9:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are the authors of this letter? I read their positions. Ok, so they have jobs. But, who are they? How old are they? What constitutes a "young" CBF Baptist? I've heard that we start to loose the "young" category somewhere in the mid-30s.



5:37 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

The inability of CBF leaders to move on (and thus, the way the SBC and its doings continues to control them) is why my congregation broke its CBF ties and became affiliated only with the Alliance of Baptists and the American Baptist Churches.

These days, I could care less what the SBC does. It took me many years to get to that point, but there could be no spiritual and emotional healing until then. Cecil's pain is as fresh as if it all happened yesterday.

There is a difference between learning and appreciating one's "history and heritage" and constantly letting "The Controversy" of the SBC in the '80s and early '90s dominate one's thinking. It too much reinforces the SBC's own view that it is the center of the Christian universe.

I now treat the SBC as an aberration--something that should never have happened. The Trienniel Convention should not have split in 1845 and the Southerners should not have defended the right of a home missionary to own slaves! The SBC became a Baptist empire and that distorted the Baptist tradition (drawn from the Anabaptists) of being a creative minority. The SBC became a de facto established church--as Martin Marty put it, the Catholic Church of the South.

If the CBF wants to chart a history into the future that is genuinely Baptist, it will ignore the SBC.

8:17 PM

Blogger Dr. Glenn Jonas said...

Well said Michael. And, for the most part, I agree with you. However, the pain with the "founders" of the CBF is real. I don't think they will ever get over it as it will shape everything they do for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, that is a fact of life.

I suspect that in 25 years, the CBF will be very different organization than what it is now. It is still a work in progress that only began 18 years ago. The same can be said for the SBC as well. Gradually, the battle for the control of the SBC will fade into the recesses of history thank God!

10:03 AM

Blogger Cat's Dad said...

I remember, as a new seminary student, cheering on Sherman on the late-night talks shows as he took on Patterson, Pressler, or whoever was opposite him.

That sympathizing remained true until I came to understand the actuality of the theological/doctrinal slippery slope that had been present throughout the SBC agencies and institutions, and was still represented by Sherman and other moderate/liberal "heroes".

Since then, I've discovered from BGCT life, and from progressive blogs like this one, that a fundamentalist mindset is every bit as present in moderate Baptist politics as it is in the conservative national and state conventions.

Today, thirty years later, we're all fundamentalists when it comes to denominational politics--just pick which kind you care to be.

3:20 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Well thanks for calling me a fundamentalistic progressive.

This post is about how the Open Letter authors have made assertions that are short on facts.

With your assertion, you offered no facts.

I'm curious as to how I or any other progressive blog has a "fundamentalist mindset."

Taking a position and arguing passionately for that position does not make one fundamentalist.

Fundamentalists refuse to agree to disagree. Fundamentalists are militant in their rhetoric and approach (see James Smith's recent editorial claiming CBFers are not Christians) As has been said many times before, the only way to cooperate with a fundamentalist is to obey him.

4:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a couple of things...


Thanks for putting the whole letter up. I wasn't able to find it anywhere, but here.

To Everyone:

Concerning "fundamentalists," I had an interesting encounter a little over 5 years ago. I finishing a CPE Residency at MDACC. During an IPR session, one of our female members was expressing sadness over the possibility of leaving her church. You see, her church probably wasn't going to end up ordaining her, which she needed to be a full-time chaplain. The whole IPR group was sad with her, empathizing with her in her grief.

In walked one of our favorite Chaplains! She was ordained thru the UCC, originally from somewhere up north I believe. Anyway, she asked what was going on. One by one the 5 of us expressed our frustration at those darn fundamentalist that were making life so hard on our sister in Christ.

The UCC chaplain giggled a little bit, and asked us a few questions. "Do you believe in the virgin birth? Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? Do you believe in his bodily return?" She asked us a whole host of questions...which we all answered "Yes!" to.

She giggled some more, and said (my paraphrase), "I love you guys, and I sympathize with 'X' and her situation. But, you are all fundamentalists. Amongst us mainline churches you're hardly 'progressive' at all."

Every time someone begins a conversation about fundamentalism (even the SBC brand of it), I always remember that encounter.

Tim Dahl

6:00 AM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Dr. Jonas,
I agree that the CBF is just 18-and my denomination, the Alliance of Baptists, just a few years older. But the reason the Alliance refused to merge with the CBF is found in precisely the inability of the CBF to move on from the SBC controversy--to, in the words of Jesus--shake the dust from their feet and not look back. No healing can happen until then.

I pray for the success of the CBF. It's led by a good group of people, for the most part. But I am so glad my congregation chose instead to affiliate with the Alliance of Baptists and chart a brand new course.

8:49 PM

Anonymous Doctor Bill said...

I met Cecil Sherman once, a number of years ago (more than I'd like to admit) just about the time the CBF was establishing churches. He reminded me of the phrase, "vigilance is the price of freedom," and encouraged me to not forget the price that many paid for freedom of religious conscience in the recent controversy in the SBC.

In retrospect, that encounter brings Elie Wiesel and others to mind who never cease to remind us that genocide can happen anywhere. One of the tasks of conscience-keepers in society is to keep the rest of us aware of what has gone before lest we be caught by it unawares in new and different guises. I think Dr. Sherman wants to leave this world knowing he met that task effectively.

I understand how those who did not live through the SBS/CBF controversy may feel that it's "old news" and the time has come to move on. And the truth is, whether they verbalize their opinions or not, eventually the CBF will develop an identity that transcends its past. But that doesn't mean it should ignore it.

Every 4th of July we celebrate a national day of remembrance. Despite 232 years historical development we haven't outgrown our need to memorialize the work of women and men to found a new country. Maybe I've had my head in the sand, but I don't recall hearing anyone declare that it was time to stop celebrating a revolution of which they have no personal memory.

The problem with post-modernism is its basis in "personal" experience. Too much of what we take for granted in daily life comes from our ability to appropriate experiences that are not personal. The ability to empathize, for example, depends on our ability to imagine how another might feel, not whether or not we have personally had an identical, or even similar, experience. For all its posturing, post-modernism seems to me to be extraordinarily unconscious and lacking in self-reflection.

Dr. Sherman isn't saying, we had a "revolutionary" past and we need to keep on reliving it. What he's saying is, if we want to avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation, it behooves us to be more attuned to the conditions that existed at that time so we may recognize them far more easily in the future.

We don't have to learn every lesson of life for ourselves. We can learn from others. It may not be very post-modernist, but it saves a lot of time and can prevent a lot of suffering.

8:50 AM


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