CBOQ Assembly 2017: What Happened? (And What Happens Next?)
Any time Canadian Baptists gather for 3 days of meetings in a relatively enclosed space there is bound to be some mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. Throw in a dash of fellowship and a pinch of politics and you have the essential recipe for every CBOQ Assembly that I have ever attended.
This year’s Assembly however, will likely be remembered for two things in particular: the public triumph of the progressives and the sudden awakening of the muddy middle.
The CBOQ is often described as being rather like an odd shaped pie with three uneven slices. There is a progressive or liberal slice which represents about 25% of our churches, many in the Toronto and Hamilton area, a conservative slice which represents another 25%, mostly outside those two cities and a very large slice known affectionately as “the muddy middle”. The muddy middle is made up of salt of the earth type folks who give faithfully to CBOQ believing that their money is spent to proclaim the Gospel around the world and to bless brothers and sisters in distress and hard circumstances. By and large they prioritize unity and fellowship above all while maintaining traditional Christian beliefs and values.
These people are nice.
But they usually have no idea what is going on in our wider family of churches.
And that’s because for the last 90 years or so the CBOQ bus has been driven by the progressives. They have slowly but surely seized control of all the levers of our collective machine. By locating the head office in Toronto they have ensured that all of the staff and most of the Board members come from the GTA. This has accelerated the liberal slant of the denomination as most of the city churches are far more progressive than those in the towns and countryside. While many of their churches are shrinking and dying, they have institutionalized their theology and missiology throughout all of our shared resources and programs. Slowly but surely “preaching the Gospel” became “pursuing justice” and “working together” became “celebrating our differences”.
Few of the changes they pursued were ever justified Biblically and fewer still were ever discussed publicly. In this way they have followed the playbook used to great advantage in other denominations. Liberals rarely make an argument, rather they seize control of the machine and use the power of the platform and the polity to silence and marginalize opposing voices.
So it was at assembly.
Nominations by local churches were ignored because “they appeared less likely to work in harmony with the board”. This forced those nominations to come from the floor and such nominees are almost never voted in because the muddy middle fears conflict and division. This allows the board to stack their own deck which they did by nominating more Toronto elites – one of their nominees was the man who spoke most vehemently against the motion to direct the board to study how we might reach out to the LGBTQ community without affirming what Scripture condemns. This is the board that will now handle the matter on our behalf.
As a final display of their public triumph, the board invited the pastor whose sermons affirming homosexuality sparked the initial crisis in our denomination to pray over the incoming officers.
The symbolism was rather hard to miss.
They then made further use of the platform to undermine and delegitimize those who disagreed with their leadership. The principal of the seminary used a portion of his time at the microphone to belittle those he viewed as having initiated this disturbance for their complementarian views - despite their being no mention of that issue in the motion that was presented. These backward folks were invited to come to his school in order to be properly educated. It was good for a laugh and a cheer and it was good for a reminder that this is not the first time that our denominationally funded seminary has offered to teach our pastors how to read the Bible such that it does not mean what it says.
History tends to repeat itself – particularly when people aren’t paying attention.
But that was the other interesting thing that happened at Assembly – people started paying attention!
Two things in particular appeared to catch the attention of the muddy middle.
The first had to do with the money.
Everyone knows that church givings to the CBOQ have been in dramatic decline, and yet, the machine seems to get bigger and bigger and bigger. How does this happen? How can it happen? This year we found out, thanks to some very probing questions from the floor.
They don’t need our money.
They have $21,000,000.00 dollars in the bank.
That money, we found out, was given to them by our grandparents and great grandparents all the way back to the 1800’s.
You could see that realization spreading far and wide throughout the muddy middle and you could almost hear the gears beginning to turn.
The second thing the muddy middle figure out was that some of their progressive brothers and sisters had ventured much further out into the cultural and sexual revolution than they had been led to believe. Churches belonging to our denomination have pastors participating in same sex marriages. Churches we’ve supported financially. We have churches that fly the rainbow flag from their pulpit. We have churches that have publicly expressed their willingness to put practicing homosexuals into positions of leadership. That there could soon be churches in our tribe with openly gay elders, deacons and pastors was a revelation that many in the muddy middle found quite alarming.
This was not what their grandparents had in mind when they gave our denomination the money that now fuels our operations.
While the motion put forward directing the Board to investigate our ministry approach to the LGBTQ community was deferred and no conversation from the floor was permitted, the conversation among the delegates was ignited and it gives no sign of abating. The muddy middle has begun to stir. Churches that had no interest in theological affairs are now beginning to look a little deeper into these matters.
As one of the authors of the original motion I confess that felt utterly defeated by 4 pm on Thursday. The motion was deferred, the conversation from the floor shut down before it could begin, the most vocal opponent of our suggestion voted onto the board, our nominee voted off and the instigator of the controversy invited up to pray over the new officers – that felt to me like a most resounding defeat.
And then, quite unexpectedly, very strange things began to happen. I began to get emails and text messages from the middle. Folks from the middle began to tell me that we had won. Folks from the middle began to tell me that we had put the issue on the radar and that the middle would take it from here. One church asked to meet with me for coffee and after hearing the backstory for this entire conflict ended the conversation by asking if they could sign the doctrinal statement for our renewal movement and give me some money.
I deferred on the money but encouraged them to take the statement home and to discuss it as a congregation.
Is the middle finally awake?
Can these dry bones live again?
Only God knows that, but I know this: it is often after every human effort has been exhausted, that the Spirit begins to move.
Is the Spirit moving? Are eyes being opened and ears being dug?
It is far too early to say but one thing is clear: public triumph is often short lived. Defeated and reviled prophets sometimes speak even after they’ve been silenced. And the Lord God Almighty ALWAYS GETS THE LAST WORD.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!