I don’t recall a more widely discussed departure from the SBC than that of Cornerstone Church in Atlanta. In my memory only a few high profile, moderate churches leaving the denomination generated as much publicity.
Christianity Today has the most comprehensive story about this: Atlanta Church Splits With SBC for Downplaying Racial Issues
[Pastor John] Onwuchekwa, who grew up in Houston, the son of Nigerian immigrants, said the SBC tried to make him feel welcome. But from the beginning, he had concerns.
“We got on the bus with skepticism, nine years ago,” he said.
In 2015, with help from several other churches, including an SBC congregation, and $18,000 of his own money, Onwuchekwa founded Cornerstone Church, a church plant in a predominantly African American community on the west end of Atlanta. The church is in a part of Atlanta that has made national news recently involving the police shooting death of Rayshard Brooks.
When Cornerstone needed a building, the SBC helped the church get a loan. Last year, when the church wanted to renovate the building, it got a $175,000 grant from NAMB to assist with that. The grant was distributed through Blueprint Church, another local congregation that partnered with Cornerstone as a “sending church.” Blueprint’s pastor, Dhati Lewis, serves as one of the vice presidents at NAMB.
The pastor said he was also taken aback when [NAMB president Kevin] Ezell suggested that he had a moral obligation to repay the grant. Onwuchekwa said the denomination itself, which was founded by slaveholders, has obligations of its own, especially when it comes to race. He pointed to a recent report from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary that detailed the school’s founders’ ties to slavery and white supremacy and said the denomination has not done enough to reckon with the long-term consequences of that history.
“I think there’s a different conversation surrounding moral obligations that needs to be had by the SBC,” Onwuchekwa said.
There are written agreements for NAMB church plants. Evidently, no written agreement for the $175k renovation grant.
Onwuchekwa, son of Nigerian immigrants desires another conversation about repayment, more to be done to “reckon” with the pre-Civil War founding and founders of the SBC. Those in his congregation would certainly include many descendants of slaves. I’m OK with having that conversation too.
But if a church takes the SBC’s grant, and we’re not talking about a grant made decades ago (it was “last year”), let’s have that conversation before the check is deposited, or pay it back. There’s always a reason for leaving the SBC.
NAMB requires its plants to give above the national average percentage to the Cooperative Program, partly to assure the Southern Baptists that pay the bills that we’re starting cooperative, Southern Baptist churches. I don’t know what measures could be put in place to assure the Southern Baptists who give the money to plant churches that they can be assured that their funds will be used in Southern Baptist church plants…at least for a prescribed period. While this particular situation, Cornerstone Church, has some unique aspects, the general issue of funding churches that “stay” Southern Baptist is a perpetual problem.
Perhaps Cornerstone Church and NAMB can reach some mutually agreeable solution.
Regardless, any church that preaches the Gospel should be our friend, SBC or not.
Pastor Onwuchekwa was interviewed for an article here in 2017. I didn’t listen to the interview, so I don’t know what the pastor said about the SBC three years ago.