LGBTQ-affirming network for CBF announces merger prior to general assembly

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP) – A group dedicated to serving as a “communal space” for those identifying as LGBTQ and their allies within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) has merged with a like-minded organization.

The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB) announced on June 17 that, as of June 1, it has joined with The Affirming Network of the CBF. The latter is described on the CBF’s Networks page as “officially acknowledg[ing] the place of LGBTQ individuals and their allies within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s broad community in a capacity never recognized before.”

Discussions among representatives from The Affirming Network, CBF and AWAB for two years led to the merger, which will continue under the AWAB’s name. The decision followed “a period during which [Affirming Network] confronted leadership transitions and operational challenges in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, said the announcement.

“In 2018, LGBTQ+ leaders and allies founded the Affirming Network with a vision of inclusion at all levels of our Fellowship,” said Affirming Network leader and CBF pastor Jordan Conley. “Rather than merely making space around a table for LGBTQ+ folk, AFN (Affirming Network) advocated for a whole new table in Cooperative Baptist life.”

“This merger unifies the voices of LGBTQ+ clergy and allies within CBF life at a time when the Spirit’s call to bear witness to the inclusive mission of Jesus could not be more urgent. Our country is experiencing a heartbreaking rise in hate crimes, discriminatory legislation, and hostile rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community. This landscape highlights the urgency of churches coming out as communities that embrace the expansive mission of Jesus Christ. AWAB is uniquely equipped to walk alongside CBF churches as they discern, affirm, and advocate for LGBTQ+ folk and allies.”

CBF Executive Coordinator Paul Baxley affirmed the merger, the AWAB’s press release said.

The CBF – made up largely of churches previously affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention until the Conservative Resurgence – began its annual meeting, or general assembly, in Greensboro, N.C., on June 19 and is set to conclude Friday, June 21.

A 2024-2025 budget of $17,457,203 was approved. Called “essentially flat” when compared to the previous year’s budget, it included a 3 percent raise for CBF employees.

Speakers called for churches that affirm LGBTQ and those who do not to work together.

In his address Friday morning, outgoing moderator David Hull spoke on the CBF’s originally-proposed name of United Baptist Fellowship and that “Cooperative” better suits the group as one consisting of churches that don’t have to be together on every issue.

Juan Garcia, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Newport News in Virginia, spoke afterward as the incoming moderator and will serve in that role over the next year.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

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