The executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention voted Tuesday to expel four of its churches, two for policies deemed too inclusive for LGBTQ people and two more for employing pastors convicted of sex crimes.
The actions were announced at a meeting marked by warnings from two top leaders that CBS, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, was hurting itself with divisions on several critical issues, including race.
“We should lament when racists and neo-confederates feel more at home in our churches than many of our people of color,” said SBC President JD Greear in his keynote address.
The two churches expelled for their LGBTQ inclusion were St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Towne View Baptist Church, in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Towne View pastor the Rev. Jim Conrad told The Associated Press last week that he would not appeal the recall and that he plans to affiliate his church, at least temporarily, with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which allows churches to set their own policies. LGBTQ.
Towne View began admitting LGBTQ worshipers as members in October 2019 after Conrad was asked by a same-sex couple with three adopted children if they could attend, a decision he defends as the right thing to do.
“The alternative would have been to say, ‘We’re probably not ready for this,’ but I couldn’t do that,” said Conrad, a pastor there since 1994.
St. Matthews Baptist was one of more than 12 churches that lost their affiliation with the Kentucky Baptist Convention in 2018 because they made financial contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which had recently lifted the ban on hiring LGBTQ employees.
In a statement Tuesday, St. Matthews said the SBC’s decision to remove him was based on its LGBTQ inclusive membership policy, which states that “believing in Jesus as personal Savior is the only criteria for membership in our Church.”
“Nothing in the Southern Baptist Convention decision changes the deep commitment of St. Matthews Baptist Church to carry out what God calls us to do in our worship and spiritual growth,” the church said.
SBC officials said West Side Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, was fired because it “knowingly employs a registered sex offender as a pastor,” while Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee, has a pastor who was convicted of rape of minors.
Baptist Press, the official news agency of the SBC, identified the Antioch Baptist pastor as John Randy Leming Jr., and said he had pleaded guilty in 1998 to two counts of statutory rape by oral sex with a 16-year-old parishioner when He was pastoring near Shiloh Baptist Church in Sevier County in 1994. The Associated Press could not find a working phone number for the Leming church and there was no immediate response to a message sent through its Facebook page.
West Side Baptist had made clear on its website that its pastor, David Pearson, has a troubled past.
“Over 29 years ago, Pastor David lived as a great sinner and rebel,” the site says. But Christ Jesus is a great Savior! Today Pastor David has gone from disgrace to amazing grace and has now served the Lord Jesus Christ on the West Side for 18 years. “
Pearson is listed on the Florida Sex Offender Registry for being convicted of sexual assault of a child in Texas in 1993.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda was a report from an executive committee working group on the SBC’s public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and its chair, the Rev. Russell Moore. Moore has shocked some SBC conservatives with various positions, including criticism of former President Donald Trump and support for a more welcoming immigration policy.
But the executive committee took no action on the report and declined to accept some recommendations aimed at curbing Moore’s bluntness.
The two-day meeting began Monday in Nashville, Tennessee, with a program featuring speeches by Greear and Executive Committee Chairman Ronnie Floyd lamenting multiple hostile divisions within the denomination.
“This sound of war in the Southern Baptist camp worries me, and I know it worries many of you, too,” Floyd said. “While we hear and see how American culture is so out of control, my friends, our own culture within the Southern Baptist family is out of control as well.”
Floyd noted that the divisions reflect ideological, political and racial differences across the country.
“In this feverish environment, each of us must be very careful with the words that we write, speak, tweet or post,” he said. “As leaders of CBS and followers of Jesus, our public behavior matters.”
Greear addressed racial tensions on CBS, a long-standing issue that has been rekindled recently. Some black pastors have left the SBC and others are expressing dismay at the pronouncements of the six SBC seminary presidents, all of whom are white, restricting how the subject of systemic racism can be taught in their schools.
Going forward, Greear said, Southern Black Baptists should be included in discussions on this issue, including CBS’s stance toward the Critical Theory of Race concept, which the seminary presidents repudiated.
“The reality is that if we at CBS had shown as much pain for the painful legacy that racism and discrimination has left in our country as our passion to expose the CRT, we probably wouldn’t be in this mess,” Greear said.
“Do we want to be an evangelical people or a people of southern culture? What is the most important part of our name: Southern or Baptist? “
After the two speeches, the executive committee unanimously adopted an expansion plan called Vision 2025. It would increase full-time Southern Baptist international missionaries from 3,700 to 4,200, increase the number of congregations by 5,000, and seek to reverse the decline in baptism. from 12 to 17 years old.
Floyd said SBC churches are baptizing 38% fewer teens than in 2000.
Associated Press reporter Travis Loller in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the Pennsylvania church’s name is West Side, not Westside.
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