It was 6:30 a.m. June 14, and a historic moment was minutes away.
Nathan Russell and I met outside the Reunion E Conference Room at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas.
We were co-leading the creation of the Affirming Network within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and were about to open the doors to the kickoff breakfast.
It’s important to realize that we are two openly gay ministers at a Baptist general assembly, kicking off a network for full LGBTQ inclusion and affirmation.
Now you likely understand that this was no ordinary breakfast for the creation of no ordinary CBF network.
This was a monumental and yet deeply personal moment for both of us and countless other LGBTQ Baptists, who never dreamed such a day would come.
Since the CBF’s inception 27 years ago, there has been policy prohibiting the hiring of openly LGBTQ candidates and an unwritten policy forbidding us to speak officially at the general assemblies.
During that time, LGBTQ members of the CBF and our allies have fought tirelessly to rid our denominational body of homophobia and transphobia.
This past February, the old hiring policy was replaced with a new one that contained no discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
While this is certainly progress, the problem was that an implementation procedure rooted in homophobia was also accepted by the CBF governing board along with the new hiring policy.
The hiring policy was the only item voted on and approved by the board and is now fully active.
Yet, the mere receiving of the discriminatory implementation procedure by the governing board was enough to remind many LGBTQ folk, including myself, that we are still not fully equal in the eyes of the CBF.
It was amid this good and bad news that George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist in Dallas and an outspoken ally for LGBTQ folk, asked Nathan and me to co-lead the creation of the Affirming Network. It would be an official space for LGBTQ folk and their allies within the CBF.
To have grown up a Baptist, knowing intimately the pain and humiliation of exclusion and discrimination, I jumped at this opportunity to help build inclusion from the ground up with my LGBTQ Baptist family.
Nathan and I got to work immediately, planning and organizing the kickoff breakfast.
We made sure to bring the voices of LGBTQ ministers within CBF to the front, so that for the first time at the general assembly we’d be speaking to our own sacredness and callings to the inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ.
This was, as my father would say, a burning bush moment where you feel the overwhelming presence of the Almighty so much that if you could remove your sandals, you surely would.
I believe we weren’t the only ones feeling God’s tangible presence as I watched straight CBF pastors and members gather with great anticipation and hope as we welcomed them into the breakfast.
The Reunion E conference room could only hold 140 seats, and every last one of them was taken.
Many folks simply stood along the walls or at the doors just so they could be present for this historic LGBTQ-led event.
It was as though they were all determined to be witnesses to God’s ability to make a way for LGBTQ folk when there outwardly appeared to be no way.
This truth was never more evident than in the powerful testimonies given by LGBTQ ministers as their straight peers sat and listened.
The feeling of being heard for the first time, uncensored and completely honest, is something that is hard to fully explain but is incredibly liberating and empowering.
While we celebrate the tremendous success of the breakfast and the creation of the Affirming Network, we remain totally committed to having the discriminatory implementation procedure publicly and officially rejected by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The Affirming Network is in no way an attempt to placate those who seek nothing less than full inclusion. Rather, it’s the very entity by which we can achieve it.
With both LGBTQ and allied ministers working together as fellow Baptists, I know we can, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world and particularly within CBF.
That change is already beginning to take place and I’m so grateful to be part of it.
Bojangles Blanchard is the creator of True Colors Ministry at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and co-chair of the Affirming Network of CBF. You can follow him on Twitter @Rev_Bojangles.