The following are Frequently Asked Questions about the Illumination Project, an initiative adopted by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Governing Board at the 2016 General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C., to create and facilitate a process of discernment and accompaniment to form and strengthen unity through cooperation across the Fellowship. Learn more at www.cbf.net/illuminationproject
1. Why the need for an Illumination Project? Why now?
At times in our nation’s religious and cultural climate when deliberative dialogue is needed most, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship seeks to model the way of unity through cooperation as it develops a process of discernment and accompaniment involving CBF congregational leaders and other CBF stakeholders. The Illumination Project aims to shed light on the qualities that have built unity in CBF, and through discernment, will identify intentional processes by which the Fellowship can maintain and grow through cooperation. The Governing Board can use this process at its discretion — at specific times for specific issues.
Controversial issues continue to painfully divide the church, in part because we lack an intentional practice of deliberative dialogue. Whatever conversations and processes have carried us to a certain time, there is a need to reconvene with intent as new points of stress present themselves. Recent events that have shaped the current cultural context include North Carolina’s HB2 law, a new Mississippi law that allows businesses to refuse to serve to gay couples out of a religious objection as well as a similar law that was vetoed, the worst mass shooting in American history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling requiring all sates to license same-sex marriage, and a concern in Texas that pastors would be forced to perform same-sex weddings despite their conscientious objection.
2. What kind of process is the Illumination Project planning to create and implement?
The Illumination Project aims to create a process for hearing the voices of the Fellowship. In authentic Baptist fashion, the Illumination Project seeks to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit through the voices of the Fellowship. Since there are 1,800 churches, more than a million people in our pews on any given Sunday and many partners in the United States and around the world, the goal is to hear representative stories from across our Fellowship.
3. Who are members of the ad hoc committee and how were they selected?
The 6-member ad hoc committee of the Illumination Project is comprised of CBF Governing members including CBF Moderator Doug Dortch as well as former CBF Moderator Kasey Jones. CBF Moderator Doug Dortch appointed the committee in July 2016 and selected Governing Board member Charlie Fuller, minister for congregational life at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., to serve as the committee’s chair.
In addition to Fuller and Dortch, other committee members include: Paul Baxley, senior minister, First Baptist Church, Athens, Ga.; Kasey Jones, senior pastor, National Baptist Memorial Church, Washington, D.C.; Steve Wells, pastor, South Main Baptist Church, Houston, Texas; and Rebecca Wiggs, attorney, Watkins & Eager, Jackson, Miss.
4. How does this process differ from the approaches taken by other Christian denominations and groups? (e.g. Methodists, Presbyterians)
Many other Christian denominations and groups have a “top-down” hierarchical structure. Authority comes from a bishop or other leaders. These mainline denominations ordain clergy and exert authority in many other ways over their churches. CBF does not do that. CBF from its very beginning has celebrated the autonomy of every local church. CBF does not ordain clergy nor make decisions for individual churches. In CBF life, authority emanates from the “bottom up.” The Illumination Project seeks to hear the stories from the grassroots of CBF and our other partners, both in the U.S. and globally. It’s through these stories that we hope for the Holy Spirit to lead us forward.
5. What is CBF’s hiring policy and is the Illumination Project only about that?
While CBF is not involved in decision-making at the local congregation level, the Fellowship has a hiring policy for its own staff, which states that CBF “does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does CBF allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.”
The Illumination Project is about more than this hiring policy, even as our shared life as a Fellowship is about so much more than the hiring policy. The Illumination Project is about hearing the stories of how individuals find meaning in our shared identity as a mission-sending organization.
6. Who will be asked to participate in the process? How are participants selected?
The identification of stakeholders is well underway and will include our global partners as well as the various individuals, churches and groups connected to CBF domestically. We appreciate your prayers for this vital part of our process. We seek to identify and hear from the breadth of our Fellowship, treasuring every voice and valuing the dignity of every story we hear.
7. What will the committee do with the information and stories collected?
The Illumination Project is employing a process called Integrative Thinking, designed to address complex decision-making, specifically where there are ideas in tension with one another. The Illumination Project Committee members are committed to objectively hearing the collective voices of the Fellowship as a whole. The information and stories collected will be used to develop composite profiles that will then be used by the Illumination Project Committee in the continuing implementation of the project. The purpose of the composites will be to reflect back to the Fellowship through larger group discussions its own diversity and thus stimulate the creation of additional and deeper stories. It is hoped that through this process a set of potential pathways forward will emerge that will then be presented to the CBF Governing Board.
8. What are the stages of the Illumination Project? How far along is the committee in its work?
With the help of an outside group experienced in developing such decision-making processes, the Illumination Project Committee is completing the initial work of designing the stages of the project, while simultaneously implementing the process.
9. What is the timeline for this process? Will there be a vote at General Assembly?
A process of this depth and importance will require much time. Seriously and comprehensively hearing the voices of such a large Fellowship cannot be done quickly. We ask all members of the Fellowship to be patient and wait along with us for the voice of the Holy Spirit to rise up from our people.
According to the CBF Constitution and Bylaws, personnel policies are the purview of the Governing Board. They are not voted on by the General Assembly. The earliest possible time for the committee’s findings to be presented to the Governing Board will be at their September 2017 meeting. A presentation at the January 2018 meeting is much more reasonable. At that point, it will be up to the Governing Board to respond to the findings of the Illumination Project Committee.
10. How can I participate in the work of the Illumination Project?
Hearing stories from a diverse group of individuals, congregations and partners is essential for success of the Illumination Project. It is expected that sessions will be held across the Fellowship, including many at CBF state and regional meetings in the spring of 2017, as well as at the CBF General Assembly in June 2017. You may also engage the CBF Governing Board’s 6-member ad hoc committee leading the implementation of the Illumination Project by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illumination Project committee reports progress, enters next phase of its work
Learn more about the Illumination Project at www.cbf.net/illuminationproject.