By Daniel Vestal
Aug. 3, 2011
As you may have read or heard, CBF will join Mercer University’s Center for Theology and Public Life to sponsor a conference on human sexuality next spring. The date is April 19-21, 2012, and the place is First Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga. The registration cost is $25 for students of CBF partner schools and $50 for everyone else, and folks are already showing an interest.
The idea for this conference has its roots in the 2010 General Assembly where we hosted a workshop titled, “A Family Conversation about Same-Sex Orientation” with the central question of “How is God calling us to be the presence of Christ among people of same-sex orientation?” The response to the workshop was so significant that we discerned the time was right for a more extended conversation. We also discerned that a hyper-focus on questions related to same-sex orientation was itself a poor stewardship of a larger conversation about sexuality which needed to take place. Finally, we discerned that the most appropriate approach to a conversation about sexuality among Christians was the question, “What is unique about Christian sexuality?”
In their efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ, every church is facing complex concerns about human sexuality. I believe this conference can provide a space for respectful conversation, fervent prayer and serious reflection that will help all of us. No matter your circumstance or hope, opinion or personal perspective, I encourage your participation in this gathering of Baptists devoted to the exploration and meaningful discussion of human sexuality and Christian covenant. I also invite your prayers.
This three day conference will utilize plenary presentations led by a very diverse community of presenters having shared a practice of prayer for months. Plenary presentations will be complemented by the opportunity to share perspectives, struggles, frustrations, resources and community in one of many “covenant communities” led by trained facilitators. There are currently plans to include a resource area. You can learn more about this event by visiting www.thefellowship.info/conference where you can download a prospectus, view the schedule or register.
I ask for your help in communicating several facts about this important first-ever gathering:
- This gathering is about an exploration of human sexuality and its relationship to Christian covenant. Churches need to be able to talk about human sexuality. One goal of this conference is to inform and model how churches might have conversation.
- Though this conference is more about sexuality than homosexuality, the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual (LGBT) community will be represented among plenary speakers and covenant facilitators. They will share their story and perspective. While some of them came to be Baptist as adults, many of them were born and raised in our tradition. They have struggled among us.
- While this gathering has purpose, it lacks divisive agenda. The conference planners, like the presenters and facilitators they have recruited, are not of one mind on matters related to sexuality. They do agree that faithfulness requires that churches and Christians courageously explore matters that frustrate the ministry and message of reconciliation.
- The aim of this event is conversation, not conclusion, treaty or statement. The gathering is a conference, not a summit. Consistent with our shared values of local church autonomy and the priesthood of every believer, no statement of public policy will be offered as a result of this gathering. Consistent with our values of freedom and responsibility, we gather to both explore and hold one another accountable.
- CBF’s partnership and co-sponsorship of this conference follows consistently from its values, vision, mission and strategic initiatives. Toward our shared vision of becoming the presence of Christ in the world, we are resourcing churches and Christians toward ministry by fostering a difficult and complex conversation. Imagine what God could do if churches became comfortable discussing sexuality. Imagine the reconciliation God might work in and through us among the struggling, the abused and the abuser – some of the most neglected, marginalized and least evangelized persons in our society.
- Everyone is welcome and will be received as Christ. Participants will be asked to listen deeply, to contribute thoughtfully, and to look for the Christ in one another.
My personal hope is that this gathering will equip Christians and churches to be the presence of Christ in the world. My hope is that by coming together, we will strengthen our resolve to walk in the way of Jesus, letting nothing stand in the way of relationships that enable the sharing of good news! My hope is to be found faithful. Will you join me?
Daniel Vestal has served as executive coordinator since 1996.
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