A Disappointing Message from the University of the Cumberlands

One of the most widely reported decisions of the recent annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was its decision to rescind the membership of a Texas congregation which acted to “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”  This weekend The (Louisville) Courier-Journal reported that the repercussions of this removal include the philanthropic activities of the congregation’s youth group:

University of the Cumberlands, a Baptist college in southeastern Kentucky, has abruptly rescinded an invitation to a Baptist youth group in Texas to help its students build homes for the poor.

The reason: the youth group’s church was kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention last week for failing to condemn homosexuality.

Officials with Broadway Baptist Church, in Fort Worth, said they are outraged by the decision, which disrupted the youths’ long-planned trip to volunteer next week with the university’s “Mountain Outreach” student ministry.

“This is the very thing wrong with fundamentalist religion,” said Charlie Johnson, interim pastor of the Fort Worth church and a 1984 graduate of Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “It is a pathology of fear.”

The college notified Broadway Baptist on Monday that the youth group is not welcome because of last week’s action by the convention.

Jim Taylor, president of the University of the Cumberlands, which is in Williamsburg, declined comment through a staff member.

Youth minister Fran Patterson said the group is leaving by bus Friday and she had to scramble to line up another mission project — in Nashville, Tenn., where the group already was scheduled to spend this weekend. Patterson said the youths were disappointed when told of the change.

“They said this is about wanting to help poor people — it’s not about politics,” Patterson said.

The Rev. Joe Phelps, pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, said he believed the situation shows how conservative forces within the convention have “politicized” such issues.

“They make it seem that churches that have a different point of view are undeserving or unworthy,” he said.

The complete article is available here; an editorial from columnist David Hawpe also appeared this morning.  It is difficult for me to reconcile this reactionary move with the spirit of the ministry of Jesus, who frequently reached out to those who were socially, culturally, or economically marginalized and, when asked to succinctly summarize the essence of the entire Torah, immediately cited unbounded and unqualified love of God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-34 and parr).  Sadly, the true victims of the dispute are not the delegates who supported the expulsion of Broadway Baptist nor the leaders of the church itself, but the youth group and the impoverished residents of Appalachia whom they wished to help.  I’m glad to see that the youth group was able to secure another opportunity to work in Nashville, even on such short notice.  Moreover, I hope that in time, the leaders of the University of the Cumberlands will recognize that while their actions may have been supported by denominational doctrine, they bear little resemblance to the universal Christian principles of unconditional love and service to others.

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July 2009


© 2006-2009, Matthew Burgess. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized use of the original content of this website is strictly prohibited. Quotations or citations should include a link to this website. The views and opinions given here are my own and do not represent those of the University of Virginia (or anyone else, for that matter).

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