BSC quietly removes church, debate continues
October 3 2003 by Steve DeVane and Tony W. Cartledge , BR Staff

BSC quietly removes church, debate continues | Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

BSC quietly removes church, debate continues

By Steve DeVane and Tony W. Cartledge BR Staff

ASHEBORO - The Baptist State Convention's (BSC) Executive Committee has agreed to hear an appeal from a Concord church that was quietly removed from the BSC several months ago.

McGill Baptist Church was taken off the BSC rolls on grounds that it violated BSC policy on publicly affirming homosexuality by baptizing two gay men. The church was removed from Cabarrus Baptist Association in April.

Jim Royston, executive director-treasurer of the BSC, raised the issue as the Executive Committee meeting was winding down on Sept. 30.

Royston said that after the McGill situation became public, he and other convention leaders considered news reports and documents provided by the Cabarrus Association in concluding that the church's actions met the criteria for an "official action which manifests public approval, promotion or blessing of homosexuality."

In 1992, the BSC General Board changed its financial policy to exclude any church that knowingly takes such action. Such churches are therefore not cooperating churches, the General Board said.

"Technically, it wasn't because they were removed from the association," Royston said in an interview several days before the Executive Committee met. "It was the issue that brought it about.

"The issue as far as I could tell that impacted us was the public action of a church being removed from an association related to the homosexual issue."

Steve Ayers, pastor of McGill, said the church has not made homosexuality an issue.

"We're just talking about accepting members," he said. "I hope this doesn't mean that all gay members of churches would be purged from churches affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina."

Ayers said he thinks the BSC is "treading on very shaky ground" if it's going to decide who can be members of cooperating churches.

"If someone thinks there's not gay people in churches, somebody needs to look around," he said.

Ayers said the church has not asked the men if they are gay, but he doesn't doubt that they are. The men first came to the church because they were invited, he said.

He said he wonders if churches now must have a list of questions to ask people before the church agrees to baptize them.

"When someone says they've accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their life, do you believe them or not?" he said. "That's what it comes down to."

Ayers said he believes that only God is capable to judge.

"I could not stand before God and tell Him that I kept anyone out of His church," he said. "That's what this comes down to."

Ayers questioned why the BSC's decision would be related to the association's action.

"That's not Baptist polity," he said. "We've become very hierarchical."

Ayers said he found out that the church was no longer in the BSC in September when he discovered that the church was not on the church locator program on the BSC's Web site.

"It was just a shock that came out of the blue," he said. "No one from the state convention has ever asked us our interpretation on this."

Ayers wrote an e-mail to the BSC's webmaster. He received a reply from Royston saying the BSC would no longer receive contributions from the church, making it ineligible to be a cooperating member of the BSC.

Royston said in an interview that the BSC should have notified the church earlier.

"I just regret that happened," he said. "That's not fair."

Royston said he expected the issue to come up during the BSC Executive Committee and General Board meetings in May, but it didn't. He informed the BSC's business office that the BSC would not be accepting any more contributions from McGill and asked them to let him know if the church sent any money.

The church sent the BSC a check for more than $4,400, which Ayers said the BSC cashed in early September.

Royston said the BSC had mistakenly cashed the check and has sent a check for the same amount back to the church.

At the Executive Committee meeting, Royston said that he privately apologized to Ayers for the delay in sending an official notification that the church had been removed from membership in the BSC.

Royston also offered to bring the matter to the Executive Committee if the church wished to appeal the decision, and Ayers indicated that the church would like to present a case that it has taken no public action on the issue of homosexuality.

Wayne Hager, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Mt. Airy, made a motion that the Executive Committee accept the church's statement that it has made no public declaration regarding homosexuality, accept funds from the church, and reinstate it.

Following a second, there was considerable discussion about whether the baptism of someone presumed to be gay constitutes an official action with regard to homosexuality.

George Smith, of White Oak Baptist Church in Clayton, asked that Hager's motion be tabled so the Executive Committee could request further information and return to the matter at its next meeting. His motion passed by an approximate vote of 13 to 3.

The matter arose again in the closing stages of the General Board meeting, when Dale Tanner, of Calvary Baptist Church in Kannapolis, asked the General Board "to reaffirm the policy on not accepting funds from churches that accept practicing homosexuals as members." Although the current policy does not speak to the issue of church membership, the motion was understood as a reference to the policy adopted by the General Board in 1992.

Tanner, a member of the Cabarrus Association, said a lot of unkind things have been said about the association, which had agonized over a very difficult issue.

Royston reviewed the specifics of the case, and noted that the Executive Committee had agreed to review the matter at its next meeting. He further explained that the issue at hand was a matter of interpretation as to whether baptizing a gay person met the criteria of the 1992 policy.

"I feel we have a moral obligation to talk with the church," Royston said. "It's only fair for us to hear their side of the story."

Randy White, who was presiding at the time as vice-president of the General Board, asked president Leland Kerr to take over as moderator so he could make a statement.

"I have to tell you I don't see any lack of clarity in the policy," he said. "When you receive and baptize and hold a press conference, you have made a public affirmation. I have no problem interpreting this. I think it is as clear as crystal."

Ayers said in an interview that the church has never held a press conference over the issue, but only responded openly and honestly to questions it was asked.

"We have never sought any publicity," he said. "In fact, this was never an issue in the congregation."

The only people who made it an issue were outside the congregation, Ayers said.

"It seems we're doing Baptist polity by tattle-tale," he said.

After Kerr returned the gavel to White at the General Board meeting, there were several calls for an end to the debate. White asked those in favor of ceasing debate to say "aye," and received a rather weak response. He did not if any were opposed, but no one raised an objection when he moved on to the motion that the General Board reaffirm the 1992 policy regarding churches that take official actions regarding the acceptance of homosexuality.

White again asked for a voice vote and the motion passed, though with noticeable opposition. No one requested a show of hands or standing vote, so the voting percentage could not be determined.

The Executive Committee's next meeting is scheduled for the morning of Nov. 10 in Winston-Salem. The BSC's annual meeting begins that evening.

Ayers said the church usually sends messengers to the BSC annual meeting. Royston said in the interview that the church will probably not receive messenger cards this year. If the church sends anyone to the BSC annual meeting in November, the BSC credentials committee would have to decide whether or not the church could have messengers, he said.

Ayers said the church would likely send a representative to meet with the Executive Committee.

"We'll give them the courtesy they didn't give us," he said. "We'll listen and respond. I wouldn't call it an appeal. If they want more information, we'll give it."

The BSC policy at issue was first used to effectively remove Pullen Memorial and Binkley Memorial churches from the BSC in 1992. Pullen in Raleigh had voted to bless the union of two homosexual males. Binkley in Chapel Hill voted to license a gay man to the ministry.

In 1999, the policy was used to remove Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The church held a same-sex union for two lesbian members in September 2000.

10/3/2003 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane and Tony W. Cartledge , BR Staff | with 0 comments
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