Fifteen years after forming around principles including the right of local churches to select their own leaders—whether male or female—the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship next year will for the first time be led by a woman pastor.
Officially elected last year as moderator-elect, Joy Yee, senior pastor of New Covenant Baptist Church in San Francisco, took the gavel at the close of last weekend’s CBF General Assembly in Grapevine, Texas. She will preside during the next year over meetings of the CBF Coordinating Council, as well as at next year’s General Assembly.
The 1,800-church CBF, which alternates between electing male and female moderators, also this year for the first time chose an African-American man as its top officer.
Emmanuel McCall, retired pastor of Christian Fellowship Baptist Church in College Park, Ga., and before that a pioneer in black-church relations in the Southern Baptist Convention, was unopposed as moderator-elect, putting him in line to take over as moderator in 2006-2007.
In other business at the two-day national gathering June 30-July 1, the General Assembly adopted a $16.5 million operating budget for 2005-2006. That doesn’t include another $5.1 million in designated gifts, mostly for global missions.
The budget includes $45,000 in funding for the Baptist World Alliance, which a year ago lost $300,000 in annual income when the Southern Baptist Convention withdrew from membership, in part a reaction to the BWA accepting the much-smaller CBF into membership.
At a Wednesday banquet held in conjunction with the CBF meeting, BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz said he is often asked “How are you making it?” after losing SBC funding.
“We are making it,” he answered, saying BWA member organizations like CBF, the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Baptist General Convention of Texas have more than made up the difference.
Nineteen new field personnel joined the Atlanta-based CBF’s Global Missions staff, bringing the number of total mission workers to 162.
CBF Coordinator Daniel Vestal told participants he believes the most pressing moral issue facing the world today is global poverty.
“My brothers and sisters, we will partake of the suffering of poor people only when we are willing to make changes,” Vestal said. “Our government must make changes in policy that gives a greater priority to poor people. Our churches must make changes in practice and programs so that more of our money and time is going to the poor and less to ourselves. Our families must make some changes in spending habits, in what we do with leisure and holidays and possessions. And, most important of all, each of us as individuals must make changes in our lifestyle, our giving and in our attitudes.”
In a keynote sermon, Baptist University of the Americas President Albert Reyes said some people don’t know how to respond to a changing world.
“We haven’t changed neighborhoods, but the neighborhood around us has changed,” he said. “How do we be the presence of Christ in the world that has come next door?”
The answer, Reyes said, “is no more complex than the teaching of Jesus, who told us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The General Assembly affirmed a Partnership Study Committee report, which reportedly calls for reducing funding levels of two organizations, the Baptist Center for Ethics and Associated Baptist Press, to be phased in over three years.
One speaker expressed concern that the CBF’s 14 partners in theological education also might suffer.
Other debate arose over changes to the CBF purpose statement, specifically the omission of references to the “Great Commission” and “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” from the constitution. CBF leaders defending the new language said those commitments were implied.
Participants also raised $45,000 to be used for religious liberty and human rights ministries of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance in a newly named Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Offering for Religious Liberty and Human Rights.
“We are pleased to lend our names to this offering, which has the potential of affecting lives as together we advocate, educate and build friendships around the world,” former President Jimmy Carter said in a video message.
Started in 1991 to defend Baptist distinctives like soul liberty and autonomy of the local church—which were viewed as under attack by conservatives controlling the Southern Baptist Convention and insisting on biblical inerrancy and male-only pastors–the CBF has from the start sought inclusive leadership. Coordinating Council members are balanced by gender, age, ethnicity and between clergy and laity.
Six women have previously led the CBF as moderator. The last was Cynthia Holmes, an attorney from St. Louis, in 2003-2004. And while the CBF has in the past featured women as preachers at the General Assembly, Yee is the first ordained woman pastor to assume the moderator post.
Yee, also the first Asian American to be elected as moderator, served on the Fellowship’s Coordinating Council from 1999 to 2001 before rejoining the council as moderator-elect during the last year.
Active in the CBF West regional organization, Yee holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California-Berkeley and a master of divinity degree from Golden Gate Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.
She was ordained to the gospel ministry in June 2000 by First Chinese Southern Baptist Church. Yee and her husband, Jimmy, have been married for 16 years and have two boys, Nathan, 13, and Kevin, 10.
While a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the only African-American to be enrolled at the time, McCall was mentored by Louisville pastor Garland Offutt, the seminary’s first black graduate.
McCall went on to a career at the SBC Home Mission Board (now called the North American Mission Board), becoming the first African American to earn a national assignment with Southern Baptists.
He worked at the HMB 23 years, before founding Christian Fellowship Baptist Church March 31, 1991. He taught 26 years as a visiting professor at Southern Seminary, until the seminary’s current president, Al Mohler, didn’t renew his invitation.
Last year McCall spoke up to clarify to the CBF Coordinating Council that he had nothing to do with the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Network giving an award named in McCall’s honor to Mohler.
Mohler is unpopular with many CBF leaders, who remember him as a moderate student at Southern Seminary in the 1980s. Mohler once championed women in ministry but as president got rid of a popular but controversial female theology professor and later fired a woman social work dean.
Invited last summer to respond to the BP report, McCall told EthicsDaily.com he intended his original statement only for the Coordinating Council and did not desire to discuss it in the press.
Bob Setzer, pastor of First Baptist Church in Macon, Ga., concluded a term as moderator but remains on the Coordinating Council another year as immediate past moderator.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.