The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was formed in Atlanta in 1991 in response to the growing fundamentalism of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist organization in the country. Often in partnership with other groups, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship provides moral and financial support for preaching, teaching, medical, and agricultural missionaries; thirteen theological schools; various publication ventures; a wide range of organizations exploring ethical and ecumenical issues; and numerous social service agencies. A national coordinating council of elected representatives from each state or geographic region loosely oversees the entire operation.
After more than a decade of increasing differences with conservatives, moderate Baptists from the Southern Baptist Convention first held their own conference in Atlanta in 1990 to discuss the possibility of forming a separate Baptist organization. These moderates disagreed with the increasing theological conservatism of the Southern Baptist Convention and its leaders, especially the emphasis on biblical inerrancy—the interpretation of the Bible as literal, historical fact—and the opposition to the ordination of women in the church.
In May 1991 the Reverend Daniel Vestal headed the committee in Atlanta that proposed the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Under the leadership of Vestal, Cecil Sherman, and R. Keith Parks, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has since grown to include a nationwide confederation of congregations. Among the fellowship’s concerns have been the inclusion of women and minority groups in church organizations, the right of every believer personally to interpret the Scripture, and the appropriation of mission funding for moderate Baptist groups outside the Southern Baptist Convention. The organization began publication of the newsletter fellowship! in 1991.
Various states have established their own local organizations within the fellowship; the national headquarters remain in Atlanta. In 2003-4 about 1,800 churches contributed to the national fellowship’s $19.7 million operating budget. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has been a longtime supporter of the fellowship. In 2003 the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship became a member of the Baptist World Alliance.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia was formed in 1992, and E. Frank Broome became the first full-time coordinator in 1997. The organization holds fellowship and training meetings; cooperates in erecting structures for both Habitat for Humanity and moderate churches; supports the Morningstar Treatment Services for children and teenagers with severe emotional problems; sponsors various summer camps and other gatherings for children and youth; publishes a newsletter, Visions; and supports ministries and missionaries worldwide in cooperation with the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Incorporated. The Georgia fellowship has its headquarters in Macon. In 2004-5, 138 congregations (most dually aligned with the Georgia Baptist Convention) and 207 individuals contributed about $815,000 to the state fellowship.