In August of 1990, after several decades of mounting unhappiness with events in the Southern Baptist Convention, a group of “moderate” Baptist leaders met at the Inforum in Atlanta, Georgia.
This gathering took place after years of soul-searching and of exhausting and ultimately frustrated efforts to hold the Southern Baptist Convention together, with room under the so-called “big tent” for all. Previous preliminary meetings and failed efforts at compromise had set the stage for what would transpire at this meeting, as leaders wrestled with the question of “where do we go from here?”
As Daniel Vestal said in his opening address to that open group of 3,000 like-minded Baptists, “We’re here to help, not hurt; to heal, not wound; to unify, not divide; to focus on the future, not the past.” The path that led to CBF’s founding was circuitous and complicated.
At that meeting in 1990, concrete ways to cooperate were established, and a 60-member interim steering committee was chosen to create a pathway forward for what was tentatively known as “The Baptist Fellowship.” A year later, in May of 1991, more than 6,000 participants gathered at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, the name “The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship” was adopted, and CBF was born. CBF of Georgia would be established the following year, in 1992.
In commemoration of the 30th birthday of CBF, Visions will devote part of each quarterly issue to some aspect of CBF, its history, and its future. In this issue, Dr. John Finley, retired pastor of First Baptist, Savannah, and executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, begins our journey. CBF’s birth came only after decades of struggle. John explores some of the salient events and broad developments that foreshadowed the necessity of what became the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, developments that “set the table,” so to speak, for what inevitably would come.
Other Visions issues this year will explore related topics, including the actual founding of CBF in 1991 and its early development, the role of women in CBF life and partnership with Baptist Women in Ministry, and finally, a look at the present and future challenges of CBF. We look forward to hearing from a variety of voices as the year progresses.