WINSTON-SALEM — A progressive Baptist church once formally affiliated with Wake Forest University and kicked out of the Baptist Convention of North Carolina for its LGBT-inclusive practices is now protesting the anti-gay policies of a moderate Baptist association.
Since the mid-1990s, Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., has continuously debated and progressed on issues of LGBT inclusion in church life.
(Ed. Note — This writer is a member of Wake Forest Baptist Church.)
In 2000, the church made headlines for performing a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple. The controversy eventually caused a split between the church and the Baptist Convention of North Carolina and Southern Baptist Convention. That controversy also caused hard feelings between the North Carolina Convention and Wake Forest University. Later, the church hired one of the lesbian women, Susan Parker, as their associate pastor. The church still meets in Wait Chapel (pictured right) on Wake Forest University’s Reynolda Campus.
The church is now protesting the anti-gay hiring policies of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an association of Baptists usually seen as more moderate than the conservative Southern Baptist Convention. The protest, in the form of a reduction in the congregation’s annual contribution to the group, was explained in a letter from the church’s pastor to the Fellowship’s executive coordinator.
On June 23, 2008, Wake Forest Baptist’s pastor, Dr. Richard Groves, sent a letter to Daniel Vestal, the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Along with the letter was a check for $100, an unusually low sum when compared to the past $1,500 annual contributions to the group from the congregation.
Groves explained the contribution reduction was in response to the Fellowship’s decision to prohibit the employment of LGBT individuals.
“At the present time, approximately one out of six members of Wake Forest Baptist Church is gay or lesbian,” wrote Groves. “We could not justify continuing to support in a major way (major for our congregation) an organization that on principle would discriminate against 15% of the members of our church on the basis of their sexuality.”
Groves also explained his personal protest of the group. “I have not attended a meeting of the CBF since the policy was approved,” he wrote. “The desire to appeal to the broad middle of the moderate movement that has been present since the beginning of the CBF is not one that our congregation has chosen to embrace, nor is it one I have chosen to embrace in my own ministry.”
During the week of July 13, Vestal responded to Wake Forest Baptist’s letter.
“I understand and appreciate where you and Wake Forest Baptist Church differ with our funding and hiring policy regarding homosexuals,” Vestal wrote. “This is an issue where Baptists have differences of conscience and convictions. I respect the protest of your congregation just as I respect the Fellowship’s decision to implement this policy.”
Vestal also thanked Groves for his “support and encouragement” during the early years of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s development. “I treasure your friendship and thank God for your ministry,” Vestal concluded.
The Fellowship’s media coordinator, Lance Wallace, was on vacation Monday, July 28, and unavailable for comment.
Pick up the next issue of Q-Notes on Aug. 9 for more on this story.