ATLANTA (ABP) — In response to controversial comments at the recent Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, a group of younger CBF supporters has called for an end to “old rhetoric” and for renewed attention to the world’s needs.
Seven leaders issued an open letter June 24 to Cecil Sherman, one of CBF’s founders and its first coordinator, over comments he made at the June 19-20 meeting in Memphis, Tenn.
During the June 19 morning business session, Sherman made remarks after accepting author copies of his new book, By My Own Reckoning, a personal recounting of the CBF’s history. In asking listeners to use the lessons of the past to help chart the future, he made a reference to the Holocaust.
“Every once in a while, I meet someone of the younger generation who says, ‘Don't talk about that anymore,’” Sherman said. “Why don't you tell a Jew not to talk about the Holocaust anymore? You need to remember the events that called us into being and be guided by them as you wisely chart your future.”
Sherman was among moderate Baptists who fought the fundamentalists’ takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention beginning nearly 30 years ago. He has often been the target of intense criticism by conservatives.
Reference to Holocaust “misguided”
While acknowledging Sherman’s leadership and contribution to the CBF movement, the open letter’s seven signers called his reference to the Holocaust “misguided.”
“…[Y]ou juxtaposed our relatively small amount of pain — where no one was injured or killed — to the 6 million killed in the Holocaust. In our opinion and the opinions of many others, your analogy was misguided,” the letter said.
David Burroughs, president of Passport Inc., CBF’s partner for youth and children’s camps and conferences, was among the seven signers. “We all have high respect for Cecil Sherman…but there are some of us who are ready to lay that [the pain of the SBC takeover] down and move forward,” he said by phone June 25. “We felt the need to say that out loud.”
Burroughs noted that younger leaders within the CBF movement do not wish to discount the organization’s history, but believe in “using the lessons of the past.”
“We do want to remember the past…. There are plenty of forums, including Baptist history [courses] at the seminaries and breakout sessions at the General Assembly,” he said. The 45-and-under leaders “want to give proper respect for the past, but don’t want to be defined by it.”
Fuel for some people's fire
The problem with repeated references to the past, Burroughs added, is that CBF’s critics can use them against the entity. “When we keep referencing the past … it just gives fuel for some people’s fire. [They can say], ‘They keep defining themselves by what they did.’”
Younger CBFers, Burroughs continued. “are not defined by what happened and have grown tired of hearing about it.”
In the letter, the leaders called for a focus on the future.
“Of course, remembering what happened [in the past] will help us avoid repeating mistakes. But we will no longer wish for this conversation to have center stage — nor be the focus of who we are and what we do,” they wrote.
“Young Baptist leaders are ready to embrace new opportunities for ministry and discipleship. Remembering the past but not dwelling on it, many Baptists are excited and enthusiastic about ministering with the most neglected people around the world….”
They invited Sherman and, by implication, other leaders from that era to “lay down the pain of the past and join us as we focus on a future, bright with possibility.”
In addition to Burroughs, other signers included R. Scott Ford, CBF of Georgia associate coordinator for missions; Nikki Hardeman, CBF of Georgia associate coordinator for congregational life; Jeremy Lewis, manager of Together for Hope, CBF’s program to assist the 20 poorest counties in the United States; Brent McDougal, coordinator of Alabama CBF; Christina Whitehouse-Suggs, CBF of South Carolina associate coordinator for congregational life; and Mike Young, Tennessee CBF associate coordinator for missions.