Departures, de-funding follow association's 'confusing' vote
March 15 2001 by John Pierce , Baptists Today

Departures, de-funding follow association's 'confusing' vote | Friday, March 16, 2001

Friday, March 16, 2001

Departures, de-funding follow association's 'confusing' vote

By John Pierce Baptists Today ATLANTA - Messengers packing the First Baptist Church of Hapeville, Ga., for the annual spring meeting of the Atlanta Baptist Association March 12 voted to amend the membership section of their bylaws to exclude churches that "affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior." But a subsequent vote failed to dismiss Oakhurst and Virginia-Highland Baptist churches - two congregations ousted by the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1999 for that offense. Sam Boyd, pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, made both motions. The motion on changing the bylaws garnered 300 votes - five more than needed for the two-thirds majority. However, Boyd's motion to specifically remove the two congregations received 44 fewer favorable votes and failed.

The seemingly conflicting votes left many on both sides of the lengthy and at times heated debate feeling confused. And a third vote - to refer to the association's membership team a motion on church discipline that could seek to reconcile the earlier actions - may mean that the issue has not been put to rest.

However, those most vocally opposed to retaining fellowship with the two churches now seem set on establishing a new, competing body called the Metro Baptist Association. Immediately after his second motion failed, Boyd announced that his congregation was withdrawing from the Atlanta Association and invited other churches to join them in the new effort.

At the outset of the meeting, messengers accepted the requested withdrawal of another large congregation, Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker. The number of defecting churches is unknown, but Tim Clark, pastor of Pine Lake Baptist Church, said about 20 congregations were represented at a recent meeting he organized to consider forming the new association.

Some pastors expressed fear that the local churches may be divided over which association to join. Others were simply looking for ways to explain the unusual meeting.

"I'm confused by the whole evening," said Tim Shirley. The Virginia-Highland pastor said he had hoped no vote would be taken regarding his church's membership since that issue had been dealt with in a recent called meeting in which messengers affirmed a membership team's recommendation. That recommendation calls for keeping fellowship with the two congregations while not condoning their positions on homosexuality.

Oakhurst pastor Lanny Peters said he too would have difficulty explaining the events. He suggested the outcome of the two votes were possibly due to "people seeing a difference" between a broader statement on homosexuality and the specific dismissal of two member churches.

As the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) executive committee met the following morning, executive director Robert White said he received reports of the Atlanta Association's actions and has "never been more confused over Baptist polity."

However, the GBC decision-making body expressed little of the ambiguity noted in the Atlanta Association meeting. At the urging of White, the executive committee voted overwhelmingly to withdraw all funding from the association.

Ron Hinson Jr., pastor of First Baptist Church in Blakely, Ga. and one of only three opposing the action, said he was "concerned about the relationship whereby the state convention imposes its constitution and polity" upon another autonomous Baptist body. He added that by withdrawing funds that support inner-city ministries, the convention is "not saying what we want to say."

"We cannot agree with Atlanta Baptist Association," White said, "and we have no other way to express our dissatisfaction."

White suggested that in refusing to dismiss the two churches, the association "doesn't know how big this (homosexual) issue is nationally." He also said that some Atlanta Baptists are reacting out of anger over other issues.

"This is more than a vote on homosexuality," White said. "It is a vote about power."

Some churches in Atlanta, White said, "are so angry with the SBC" over presidential elections, the Disney boycott and revisions of the Baptist Faith & Message that they are using this current issue to express their feelings.

White described the state convention and association as "two ships steaming further and further away from each other."

Jim Dorriety, a current state convention vice president, spoke to the committee after White's appeal. He strongly condemned homosexual behavior as unscriptural but said de-funding the association was "far too judgmental for me personally."

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3/15/2001 11:00:00 PM by John Pierce , Baptists Today | with 0 comments
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