Proposed Motion For CBOQ Assembly 2017
On February 19th, 2014 CLRA co-founder Marc Bertrand and I released a blog article titled “Canaries In A Coalmine” on the adfontes website. The article described two active stories within the wider family of Canadian Baptist churches that seemed to reveal a deep sub-surface division within our association. One of those stories had to do with a pastor who preached a series of sermons essentially denying that homosexual conduct was forbidden in Scripture. Marc met with the pastor in question and subsequently met with staff members at the CBOQ head office where he was essentially told that while we might disagree with the sermons in question there had been no technical breach of the CBOQ covenant and therefore no real means of enacting discipline. Marc made the decision to pursue the matter through his local Association but a motion to censure the pastor met with only minimal support. While many pastors privately indicated that they shared Marc’s concerns, they seemed to feel that the CBOQ structure was not intended to “police the pulpit”.
During the course of these events a number of Baptist pastors and leaders began meeting as part of what is now known as “CLRA” (pronounced like the lady’s name ‘Clara’) in order to seek revival through prayer, Scripture study and mutual fellowship. The goal of the group was, and remains, to study the Scriptures prayerfully and in community so as to continue the work of the Reformation in bringing our lives and ministries into more complete alignment with God’s Holy and inspired Word. In our meetings there was frequent discussion as to how we might serve as salt and light in an increasingly confused and fractured denomination.
Those concerns were heightened considerably when in January of 2017 it came to our attention that Danforth Baptist Church in Toronto had released a statement on the internet expressing their intention to affirm LGBTQ persons into positions of leadership in their church. While we share the desire to reach out in Gospel love and concern to all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, we were deeply concerned with the approach indicated in this public statement. (To read an article summarizing this particular situation see here). That article was widely shared within the CBOQ community and resulted in a large number of letters and emails being sent to the CBOQ Board.
Several churches indicated an intention to put forward some sort of motion at this coming Assembly in order to insist that this issue be dealt with by the CBOQ leadership. The leadership of CLRA has attempted to coordinate these efforts so as to present something of a united front when these issues are raised. Several draft motions were circulated back and forth for comment and improvement. However, early last week, several churches received a letter of response from the CBOQ Board that substantially changes the nature of this discussion. Given that the letter has been widely circulated, it seems reasonable to summarize the content in this forum.
The CBOQ Board Response
After acknowledging that the issues raised by the Danforth Baptist statement have caused concern for a number of sister churches, the CBOQ Board responded as follows:
Questions have been asked about whether Danforth Church statement complies with the values, beliefs, Covenant and pastor accreditation requirements of CBOQ. As of the time of this letter, CBOQ Board of Directors is satisfied that Danforth Church meets CBOQ membership requirements as stated in the Constitution (CBOQ, General Operating By-Law No.3) and the CBOQ Covenant Agreement. The Reverend Lynn Marsh, Pastor of Danforth Church, abides by the principles and standards of CBOQ's "Statement of Ethical Pastoral Conduct” and the “Resolution on Same-Sex Marriage" passed by Assembly in 2004 (that established the standard that all CBOQ pastors/chaplains/counsellors, who are registered to perform marriages, not to officiate or co-officiate at any same-sex marriage ceremony).
The letter went on to say that:
Danforth Church meets the conditions of the CBOQ Covenant Agreement.
The tone and wording of the letter seem to suggest that while the CBOQ Board understands the concerns expressed by several member churches, they feel that their hands are tied. No specific requirements have been transgressed and no aspect of the covenant appears to apply.
If that is indeed the case, then clearly we need new requirements and covenants! If our polity is so porous as to be unable to rebuke a pastor for preaching that the Apostle Paul is not authoritative and that engaging in homosexual behavior is not in any way sinful (as per the 2014 concern) or to correct a church for promoting LGBTQ people into leadership irrespective of any statement of repentance or evidence of biblical conviction with respect to the biblical design for human sexuality, then it clearly needs to be adjusted, strengthened and updated.
New challenges require new structures and policies.
In recognition that a large number of churches have expressed concern about these issues the Board does indicate an intention to look further into the matter. The letter states:
“Given the range of questions and suggestions that the CBOQ Board of Directors has received, it has tasked Executive Minister, Rev. Tim McCoy, to direct CBOQ staff to develop a plan addressing issues and challenges which may include social, philosophical and theological perspectives related to CBOQ identity and beliefs.
Such options may include forums and/or consultations throughout the constituency. The Board is scheduled to receive and discuss the Executive Minister’s proposed plan at its fall 2017 meeting.”
While I want to affirm the decision of the Board to initiate some sort of response, I would suggest that such an effort must include far more than input from the staff. This initiative must involve input from the full spectrum of the CBOQ and must not be allowed to become a “head office matter”. The CLRA pastors have tried to nominate persons to the Board of the CBOQ only to have those suggestions overlooked by the nominating committee. While it is possible to imagine that this might have been a simple administrative error, it reminds us that we must be intentional as an association about ensuring broad and representative input when conducting our common business.
The Proposed Motion
The motion proposed below reflects an effort to address these issues at both the root and fruit level. Many pastors and leaders have become convinced that the root issue in the CBOQ is the absence of any sort of binding confession of faith. To be clear, it is a myth that Baptists “don’t do confessions” – the earliest Baptists were eager to make a public confession of their faith and a simple Google search will reveal that there are dozens of historical Baptist confessions that have served our sister denominations very well over the last 300 years. Rather it would be correct to say: “We in the CBOQ have not done confessions”; well, transparently, now is the time to start.
The fruit issue of course, is the matter of how we reach out in love and Gospel witness to the LGBTQ community without abandoning our commitment to the full authority of the Scriptures. While the 2004 motion addressed the issue of a pastor officiating at a same sex wedding, many complicated questions remain.
- Should a Baptist pastor serve as the best man or bride’s maid at a same sex wedding?
- Should a Baptist pastor read Scripture at a same sex wedding – though not sign the official license?
- Should churches allow same sex weddings in their buildings if officiated by other clergy?
- Should churches fly the rainbow flags in their auditoriums, from their pulpits and over their doors?
- Should churches have floats in Pride Parades?
- Should actively gay men and women be admitted to membership?
- Should actively gay men and women serve on church boards and committees?
- Should transgender people be admitted into membership?
- Should churches register transgender people according to their birth gender or by their chosen gender?
- Should pastors conduct a wedding between a transgender man and a woman or would that constitute a same sex wedding?
None of the above listed concerns are theoretical and several of them represent recent decisions made by sister churches without broader consultation with our association. We ought to have had this conversation several years ago, but we must have it now.
Towards that end we intend to put forward an improved version of the following draft motion:
“In recognition that our current covenant, membership requirements and policies are not adequate for the new challenges we are facing as a family of CBOQ churches we propose that a committee be struck with the following mandate:
i. To study, discuss and detail how churches can reach out to LGBTQ persons in love and Gospel concern without contradicting the clear teachings of the Bible concerning the sinfulness of homosexual behaviour and the essential goodness of God’s design for sexuality and gender.
ii. To adapt and update as necessary the document known as “This We Believe” towards the end of it serving as a summary of our core doctrines and practices and as the standard for church and clergy discipline within the CBOQ.
iii. To submit updated policies, covenant agreements and membership requirements in light of the above.
It is further proposed that said committee have representation from the full spectrum of CBOQ churches and that it be chaired by the Executive Minister Tim McCoy. The committee to report and to present the above requested documents for general discussion by March 1st 2018 towards the end of affirmation and adoption at Assembly 2018.”
Discussion And Improvement
Our intention is to submit an improved version of the above motion for discussion on the floor at this year’s Assembly. Towards that end your suggestions and improvements will be humbly and eagerly received. Rather than emailing your suggestions to Marc or myself, please use the comment section below so that we can keep this process public and transparent.
And May God Alone Be Glorified,
May 25th, 2017