The Southern Baptist Convention executive committee voted on Tuesday to expel four of its member churches, ousting two for policies that “affirm homosexual behavior” and the rest for employing pastors who are convicted sex offenders.
“The past year has revealed areas of weakness in our beloved convention of churches,” said JD Greear, the president of the SBC, in a fiery opening address to the committee Monday night in Nashville. “Cracks and failures and carnal idolatries. Covid did not produce these crises. It only exposed them.
The next day, the committee “excluded” the Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, and St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., For church policies deemed to accept the homosexuality, in violation of the denomination’s declaration of faith.
Towne View’s conversations about becoming an “affirmative” congregation, and its decision to accept two gay couples as members in 2019, cost the church at least 30 percent of its membership, Jim Conrad said Tuesday evening, Pastor. He stands by the ruling and said he welcomes the opportunity to freely welcome LGBTQ people into his church. “I have been SBC my entire life and have seen the convention over the past 30 years move more and more to the right,” he said. “It’s just the closing of a chapter.”
Two other churches were suppressed for employing pastors known to have committed sex crimes. The Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee is headed by a pastor who pleaded guilty to two counts of statutory rape for oral sex with a 16-year-old worshiper at a previous church in the 1990s. West Side Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Pa., is on the Florida Sex Offender Registry for a 1993 conviction of aggravated child sexual assault. The church’s website says the pastor “lived like a great sinner and rebel,” but “went from shame to amazing grace and has now served the Lord Jesus Christ on the West Side for 18 years.”
Mr Greear, whose last term as president expires in June, has made it a priority to improve the denomination’s response to sexual abuse in churches. When a 2019 investigation by The Houston Chronicle and The San Antonio Express-News revealed hundreds of cases of sexual abuse in SBC settings, the denomination cited pastoral sexual abuse to remove a church from the convention and published his own report detailing his failures in caring for victims.
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country and has been increasingly divided in recent years over a variety of cultural and political issues, including racism, sexuality, and white evangelicals’ membership in the old President Donald J. Trump.
National leaders, including Mr. Greear and Russell Moore, its chief policy officer, have attempted to keep the denomination together while expanding its reach. Mr. Moore, an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump, has spoken out strongly against the Confederate flag and has lectured on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and on racial reconciliation. Mr. Greear used the phrase “Black lives matter” in a speech last summer and claimed the most racially diverse roster of committee members in denomination history.
“Do we want to be an evangelical people or a people of southern culture?” Mr. Greear asked in his speech Monday night. “What is the most important part of our name, ‘Southerner’ or ‘Baptist’?”
But an increasingly influential conservative wing of the denomination accuses these leaders of prioritizing “social justice” over Bible truth. They denounce the encroachment of “critical race theory” – an academic framework intended to capture the deep influence of racism – and accuse the national leadership of the SBC of being out of step with the grassroots.
Public hostility to critical race theory, which some characterize as candid and necessary discussions of racism, prompted several high-profile black pastors to leave the denomination in December. About 85% of Southern Baptists in America are white, according to the Pew Research Center, although the number of predominantly non-white SBC churches in the country has increased sharply since the 1990s.
Denomination membership is down sharply overall. Its most recent annual report found that total membership fell almost 2% between 2018 and 2019, the biggest drop in a year in more than a century. The decline brought the total membership to 14.5 million.
The naming annual convention was canceled last year for the first time since World War II due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s meeting, which is expected to draw thousands of delegates, is due to take place in Nashville in June.
Ronnie Floyd, the chairman of the executive committee, closed the meeting on Tuesday with a hope of unity. “I’m just praying that over the next few months God will bring us together in one way or another to come together and stay together to reach out to each person for Jesus Christ,” he said.