The Southern Baptist Conventions’ top governing body voted to sever ties with two congregants Tuesday — a gay-friendly North Carolina church that left the denomination decades ago, and a New Jersey congregation it cited for “alleged discriminatory behavior.”
The Executive Committee’s votes came at the end of a two-day meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, even as the committee deals with the Justice Department’s investigation. The federal scrutiny comes on the heels of a violent report by a counselor earlier this year about sexual assault in Southern Baptist places and the mistreatment of survivors by former Executive Committee officials.
The committee on Tuesday approved a statement that College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, was not in a “cordial co-operation” due to its “express affirmation, approval and endorsement of homosexual conduct,” which goes against the denomination’s conservative religious positions.
In fact, College Park voted in 1999 to leave the denomination, and its website states that it is not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention but rather a member of more progressive Baptist bodies.
It was not immediately clear why the Executive Committee has now decided to put the matter to a vote. But Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman said afterwards that the conference still had worshipers on its lists so far.
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The church describes itself on its website as a “LGBTQIA Confirmed Baptist Church” and says that it “fully welcomes and affirms all persons without discrimination as to race, ethnicity, national origin, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other human category.”
The committee announced, in a separate vote, that the Amazing Grace Community Church in Franklinville, New Jersey, was no longer in friendly co-operation. She noted her “failure to cooperate… to resolve concerns about alleged discriminatory behaviour.”
Requests for comment from both devotees by phone and email were not immediately received.
Since Baptist congregations are self-governing, the denomination cannot force them to follow their policies, but can effectively expel them by declaring that they are not in “friendly co-operation” if they do not conform to sectarian attitudes in certain areas, such as for pro-LGBT policies, or Alleged support for racism or an alleged failure to respond appropriately to child sexual abuse, such as hiring perpetrators as priests.
There could be more groupings in the latter category in the pipeline.
The commission has learned that more than 200 referrals have been made to a newly established hotline on alleged mishandling of abuse cases by SBC churches or organizations.
The news came from the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force – which was set up after the release of Chancellor Guidance Solutions’ scathing report earlier this year on child sexual abuse in SBC settings and abuse of survivors by the Executive Committee.
Mike Kebbon, vice president of the task force, said it is hiring individuals to receive and investigate reports of abuse and abuse in Southern Baptist precincts.
The agreement said in August that the US Department of Justice was investigating the agreement. The Department of Justice did not confirm the report, but the agreement indicated in a statement that it was related to sexual assault. The committee voted, on Tuesday, to transfer $500,000 of investments to its operating budget, in part to respond to this investigation.
Tuesday’s Executive Committee also added “Loving Sunday” to the official Southern Baptist calendar of activities, which is intended to spread awareness and educate about abuse. Churches have the option of sticking to these dates. But Wellman urged them to do so: “We want to build a culture that treats and prevents abuse, and this is really a great learning opportunity.”
“We dreamed…that our churches would be safe for the weak and unsafe for abusers,” Wellman said, citing several ongoing reforms. “There is no place, there is no tolerance for abuse in the Southern Baptist Church.”
Some survivors of abuse found, after meeting on social media, that the commission’s procedures were lacking. Longtime advocate and survivor Krista Brown criticized her “self-congratulatory” talk on Twitter and said she had failed to take concrete steps toward amending survivors or take disciplinary steps toward former officials who erred in the Guidepost report.
Kehbon said he understands the criticism and that compared to what survivors have experienced, “there is nothing we can say or do that deserves any praise whatsoever.” He said the work team is doing its best to implement the reforms properly.
“We don’t celebrate anything,” he said. “We’re just trying to get signs of improvement.”
Wellman echoed the idea. He said, “I was sad and heartbroken when they went through.” “We know we have a really long way to go.”
The Associated Press’s religious coverage is supported by an Associated Press collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
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