Southern Baptists cut ties with LGBTQ-friendly church

The top administrative body of the Southern Baptist Convention voted to cut ties with two congregations Tuesday: an LGBTQ-friendly church in North Carolina that had renounced the denomination decades ago and a New Jersey congregation cited by “alleged discriminatory behavior”.

The Executive Committee votes came at the end of a two-day meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, even as the committee faces a Justice Department investigation. The scrutiny at the federal level follows a searing consultant report earlier this year on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist settings and mistreatment of survivors by former Executive Committee officials.

The committee on Tuesday approved a statement that the College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, was not in “amicable cooperation” because of its “open affirmation, approval and endorsement of homosexual behavior,” which conflicts with conservative theological positions of the denomination.

In fact, College Park had voted in 1999 to leave the denomination, and its website states that it is not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention but of more progressive Baptist bodies.

It was not immediately clear why the Executive Committee decided now to put the matter to a vote. But Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman said afterward that the convention still had the congregation on its lists until now.

On its website, the church describes itself as an “LGBTQIA Affirming Baptist Church” and says that it “welcomes and fully affirms all people without regard to race, ethnicity, national origin, class, sexual orientation, identity of gender or any other human category. ”

The committee, in a separate vote, declared that Amazing Grace Community Church of Franklinville, New Jersey, was no longer in friendly cooperation. It cited their “lack of cooperation … in resolving concerns about alleged discriminatory behavior.”

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Phone and email requests for comment from both congregations were not immediately returned.

Since Baptist congregations are self-governing, the denomination cannot force them to follow its policies, but it can effectively expel them by declaring them not to be in “amicable cooperation” if they do not conform to denominational positions in particular areas, such as pro policies. -LGBTQ, alleged support of racism or alleged failure to adequately respond to child sexual abuse, such as the employment of criminals as herdsmen.

There could be more congregations in the latter category in preparation.

The committee learned that more than 200 referrals had been made to a recently established hotline on alleged mishandling of abuse cases by churches or SBC organizations.

That news came from the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force, created after the publication of consultant Guidepost Solutions’ scathing report earlier this year on the sexual abuse of children in SBC settings and the mistreatment of survivors by part of the Executive Committee.

Mike Keahbone, vice president of the task force, said he is working to hire staff to receive and investigate reports of abuse and mistreatment in Southern Baptist circles.

The convention said in August that the US Department of Justice is investigating the convention. The Justice Department did not confirm the report, but the convention suggested in a statement that it was related to sexual abuse. On Tuesday, the committee voted to transfer $500,000 of investments to its operating budget, in part to respond to that investigation.

On Tuesday, the Executive Committee also added a “Caring Well Sunday” to the official calendar of activities for Southern Baptists, the goal of which would be to spread awareness and education about abuse. Churches have the option of observing such dates. But Wellman urged them to do so: “We want to build a culture that addresses and prevents abuse, and this is a great educational opportunity.”

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“Our dream … is for our churches to be safe for the vulnerable and unsafe for abusers,” Wellman said, citing numerous ongoing reforms. “There is no place, there is no tolerance for abuse in a Southern Baptist church.”

Some abuse survivors, following the meeting on social media, found the committee’s actions wanting. Christa Brown, an advocate and longtime survivor, criticized him for his “congratulatory” speech on Twitter, saying he took no concrete steps to make amends for survivors or take disciplinary action against former officials criticized in the Guidepost report.

Keahbone said he understands the criticism and that, compared to what the survivors endured, “there’s nothing we can say or do that is praiseworthy.” He said the task force is doing what it can to get the reforms right.

“We’re not celebrating anything,” he said. “We’re just trying to have markers for improvement.”

Wellman echoed the thought. “I was saddened and heartbroken by what they have experienced,” he said. “We recognize that we have a long way to go.”

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