The Governing Board of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship launched an effort at the 2016 General Assembly to seek ways to model unity through cooperation in the midst of cultural change. This innovative project, called the Illumination Project, aims to shed light on the qualities that have built unity in CBF and, through discernment, to design and develop models of dialogue and decision-making by which the Fellowship can grow through cooperation — now and in the future.

The primary commitment of the Illumination Project is to hear and consider the voices of the Fellowship, continuing CBF’s long-standing strategy of using purposeful conversations around difficult subjects to foster greater unity and encourage increased cooperation in the midst of theological diversity.

In July 2016, CBF Moderator Doug Dortch appointed a six-member ad hoc committee to guide the work of the Illumination Project during its first implementation that focused on listening to, reflecting and expressing a range of voices within the Fellowship on matters of human sexuality. Charlie Fuller, executive pastor of First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, D.C., was appointed chair of the committee.

Over the past year, the group has focused on shining a light within the Fellowship through conversations with a group of CBF stakeholders — including clergy and laity who are diverse in age, gender and geography, as well as LGBT Cooperative Baptists. Since September 2016, members of the committee have had phone discussions with more than 60 pastors from across the Fellowship and conducted more than 30 two-hour structured interviews about faith, cooperation, what it means to be Baptist, as well as matters of human sexuality. Additionally, committee members have given more than 25 presentations about their work. These presentations have taken place in cities large and small in 14 states, from Spokane to Houston to Richmond to Lumberton. The committee has also received and is still receiving numerous stories via e-mail.

Through research and collecting first-person stories, the committee is building a snapshot of how Cooperative Baptists approach matters of sexuality. The committee listened to the Fellowship and heard heart-felt stories that are respectful of the Fellowship’s diversity — full of passion and understanding of the tensions within CBF life. These facilitated discussions have sought to respect the dignity of each person, helping the committee to keep the Imago Dei, the image of God in each person, at the forefront of its work.


The Illumination Project is seeking to bring light, rather than heat, to the Fellowship around matters of sexuality, to enhance cooperation and cultivate community while eschewing division. To this end, the committee is employing a process called Integrative Thinking in partnership with experts at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, a group that previously assisted CBF with its recent Global Missions renewal process.

Integrative Thinking is a collaborative approach to profound challenges that begins with a simple notion: that better answers are possible if we choose to look for them. That means, rather than feeling that choosing sides in an either-or trade-off is a must, a third and better way can be found. Such answers are found through attentive listening, deep exploration in search of appreciation of the opposing ideas, and seeking to understand rather than judge or critique. From there, we can try to take the best of those opposing answers to create a new approach that brings the best of the two perspectives together. The committee believes this process is consistent with the way the Scriptures reveal the early church dealt with significant challenges, particularly those recorded in Acts 10-15.

The committee hopes to discern the Holy Spirit speaking through the voices of thousands of “priest-believers” — committed to the Fellowship’s core values of soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom and religious freedom — and to find a way forward as a Fellowship that is not already apparent.


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