Upon returning from the recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Memphis, a friend called to give this reflection that must have surfaced during the flight home.
“I know why we (moderates) lost the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said with evidence of a smile being revealed over the phone. “One of our leaders compared SBC fundamentalists to Nazis, a guest speaker denied the deity of Christ and the next meeting is planned during a holiday period in Houston.”
He is a loyal critic who understands — like most reasonable people — that missteps at such meetings get overexposed while the best aspects garner little attention. But while missteps shouldn’t define CBF, they don’t help either.
Enough — or more than enough — has probably been said about former CBF Coordinator Cecil Sherman’s poor analogy in response to the release of his new book. Those who don’t know him personally would make a grave error to define him by this one episode of poorly chosen words. (We all would like to put words back in our mouths on occasion.)
I recently heard a TV news commentator say politicians (and I’d add all others) should refrain from any use of Hitler or the Holocaust for comparisons. Always, they are inadequate and insensitive.
The relentless work of Baptist Press, the public relations arm of the SBC, has given John Killinger’s theology more exposure than the dozens of other CBF workshops combined.
Both Killinger and BP were wrong to suggest that those in attendance generally agreed with his interpretations. That’s not what I heard in the hallways.
While I have enjoyed reading his work over the years, it is legitimate to ask whether Killinger, who is not a Baptist, should have had such a semi-prominent (three-part workshop, not main session speaker) role in a national CBF gathering — if his theological positions were known.
At the least it was an error to call his presentations (including one on his personal relationship with Jerry Falwell) “Bible study.” They were not, at least not as most Baptists understand the concept.
However, CBF leadership would be equally criticized if they put too many strictures on those Fellowship participants enlisted to plan the program — which year-in and year-out are superb in providing for worship and a call to mission.
CBF’s strength of a broad embrace and a willingness for many to lead is at times its weakness as well. But it is preferred by many of us over heavy-handed control.
Finally, Houston is fine place to hold a CBF General Assembly. July 2-3, 2009 is a bad time to do so.
That might work in Orlando, where the strong base of CBF in the Southeast might drive families down for vacation. But Houston will require air travel for many CBFers. And the thought of flying home on Independence Day is not attractive.
If not altered, the 2009 assembly might make the Memphis event seem massive. But then Baptist Press will surely be there scouring the seminars and exhibit hall for something to offend their orthodoxy.
We all have lessons to learn. A good one for the CBF family is: whether speaking extemporaneously, planning a program or leading a breakout, keep asking, “How will this play back home?”

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