It's better to debate than downsize

Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler predicts the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will split over the issue of homosexuality. Meanwhile, Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood announced incentives for employees to take early retirement or resign voluntarily as part of a “strategic realignment” of staff.

By Zachary Bailes

All this raises an interesting question: Is it better to risk division over controversy or slowly shrink due to lost relevancy?

Last year Kentucky Baptists eliminated five full-time and 19 part-time jobs and froze salaries of the remaining employees. The current budget has been reduced twice already this year. Sure, economic times are tough for everyone, but for the once-hearty bulwark of Baptist life in the United States to cut its budget twice in one year should be a wakeup call.

While distinct from the Southern Baptist Convention, the KBC does have within its borders that Bastille of Baptistdom called the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As a native Kentuckian, I remember and experienced first hand the reach and power of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. The fact that there’s not enough money to retain a huge staff surely signals a loss of that power, albeit slowly and subtly.

That loss of relevancy has happened time and time again. Recently it occurred when the KBC removed the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty from the list of cooperating organizations in guidelines used by the KBC Committee on Public Affairs. The rationale to delete the reference was because the BJC is not officially affirmed, endorsed or funded by the KBC or SBC.

Baptists not supporting a Baptist religious-liberty organization? Surprising.

Then there’s the issue of the Obama administration’s compromise for requiring women’s health insurance to cover contraception while respecting the religious liberty concerns of employers who oppose birth control on moral grounds.

“At the end of the day, this ‘compromise’ will resolve the issue only for those whose conscience can be resolved by an accounting maneuver,” Mohler said on his blog Feb. 10. This was after the White House gave Mohler and others exactly what they asked for.

Both the KBC and SBC need to stop fearing the monster in the closet that is secularism. If they did, they might see that President Obama is trying to lower abortion rates. Far fewer abortions would occur if people had access to contraception.

Perhaps Mohler does not know it from personal experience, but contraception can be costly. Never mind how much it costs to rear a child. It appears that opponents of the president are more concerned about keeping the poor and underserved in the same conditions than in providing them with options that would allow for planning pregnancy rather than abortion.

Lowering abortion rates, increasing the quality of life for the underserved and increasing women’s rights have been enacted by the protection of religious liberty. And protection of religious liberty is the primary focus of the group the KBC decided to remove from the list of “cooperating organizations.”

My old Kentucky home faces some challenges. Yet so too does the CBF. I disagree with Mr. Mohler, though, that the CBF will be torn asunder by the conversation around homosexuality. The CBF will not be torn apart because we, at minimum, recognize the need and relevancy of this conversation. We are doing what Baptists are supposed to do: debate our conscience.

I don’t know if the sun is shining bright on my old Kentucky Baptist Convention, but I am sure that the sun shines bright on the CBF. Though many of us do not agree with the current hiring policy around homosexuality, we do believe in having conversations with one another in hopes of carrying out Christ’s Great Commission.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.