The recent Ethics Daily article on First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City’s decision to rescind permission for the Americans United for Separation of Church and State to meet in our facility unfortunately painted an inaccurate picture of current congregational life.
The article included comments implying that First Baptist had departed from the mainstream of Baptist life and stepped away from our historic Baptist principles. Quite the opposite is true.
For example, in the last 100 days we have committed to a partnership with Central Seminary that will witness First Baptist acting as an extension campus effective this fall.
We were noted as a Global Impact Church by the Baptist World Alliance for 2004, and signed a significant partnership with BWAid that will touch lives in Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe.
We have expanded our partnership with the work among an unreached people group in Southeast Asia with CBF Global Missions.
We inked a significant partnership connection with the Baptist University of the Americas that will provide the school scholarship dollars and created a pathway for the birth of a Hispanic ministry in Oklahoma City.
We hosted the largest meeting in CBF Oklahoma history. We again acted as the host church for the annual Women in Baptist Life conference.
In addition we have also found ways to reach across the Baptist spectrum and work with others in our state on common projects designed to touch the lives of those in Oklahoma.
First Baptist Church enjoys the kind of meaningful diversity that moderate Baptist have talked about embracing over the past 20 years.
Our congregation boasts those across the Oklahoma political spectrum and across the Baptist theological spectrum. We have been able to learn to work and serve together because we have chosen to focus on our common heart for missions and ministry for our community and our world in the name of Christ.
The decision to rescind permission for the AUSCS meeting was made because the request was for a small-scale coffee reception that would be free of promotion that might in any way tie the church to AUSCS.
When the promotion transformed this event into potentially large-scale, politically flavored, event that appeared to suggest the endorsement of the church, I was left with no choice but to make the decision that would best reflect the heart of our congregation.
The decision was not made because of any internal or external political pressure, and was not easy because of the pain it would cause some members of our congregation and other Baptist friends, but it was what was best for our church.
The price of leadership decisions is criticism, but I could not shrink from the decision that was in the best interest of the whole of First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City.
It is also important to note that we have also not walked away from our commitment to historic Baptist principles, including religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
Since I became pastor in January 2005 I have led five Sunday night seminars on vital Baptist principles. Another dozen seminars are planned for the coming months.
These seminars are in addition to the congregation’s annual Baptist Distinctives lecture series. Past lecture series speakers have included Charles Wade, Russell Dilday, Jerry Faught and John E. Roberts.
Since I have come as pastor I have invited two other distinguished Baptist leaders to lead future lectures. Hardy Clemmons will join with us in November 2005, and we anticipate that Walter Shurden will join with us in October 2006.
We are committed to our historic place in Baptist life and our historic embrace of Baptist principles. We are staying true to the Baptist course that Herschel Hobbs proclaimed.
You can be confident that our choice to rescind permission for the Barry Lynn event was an indication of the political nature this event had taken, and the emerging perception that this event was endorsed by our congregation, rather than a “timid” belief in Baptist principles.
I am thankful to be a part of the Baptist family and the rich religious heritage we share together.
Tom Ogburn is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, Okla.