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Association disfellowships church over racism charges

ALBANY, Ga. (BP) — What began as a harmonious relationship between a declining Anglo church and a growing African American church plant in Georgia ended when Mallary Baptist Association disfellowshipped Raleigh White Baptist Church on grounds of racism.

After two years of intervention by the association and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board between the church and New Seasons Church, the association’s Executive Committee voted unanimously April 3 to remove the church from its membership and return all monies contributed this year.

The vote ends a 75-year relationship with the Anglo congregation since it was founded in Albany and joined the association in 1943. The church is named after a former pastor of First Baptist in Albany, Raleigh White, who had died in 1942.

Before the April 3 vote, the association had 53 churches, now reduced by one. Forty-five Executive Committee members representing 26 churches attended the meeting, director of missions Hans Wunch reported.

It was the first time in recent history that a special meeting of the association’s Executive Committee had been called. A regular meeting is set for later in April but its leaders felt that recent events, after repeated attempts at mediation, pushed the issue to the front burner.

“The reason for this action involved the church’s un-Christian attitudes and acts toward another associational church,” Wunch said in a written statement from the association April 4. “These attitudes and acts were racially-motivated. Thus they do not reflect the values and mission of the Mallary Baptist Association.”

The recommendation to disfellowship the church “called for serious actions, but they were not meant simply to punish but ultimately to bring about reconciliation and strengthen our Association’s witness in the communities in which we minister,” Wunch said in the statement. “We seek above all to advance the Gospel and honor our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The vote by the Executive Committee includes “a pathway to reinstatement to fellowship with our association if the church openly repents of their sin against the other church and demonstrates the genuineness of repentance.” An associational-appointed mediator would work “to reconcile biblically the relationship between the congregations so that both churches can minister effectively to the surrounding community. The Mallary Baptist Association shall actively pursue a location for New Seasons Church to meet for worship and ministry.”

In June 2015, Raleigh White pastor Ronnie Kinsaul, seeing the church’s steady decline in a transitional neighborhood, sought an African American church planter to partner with the congregation. The church was connected with Marcus Glass in the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s church planting network and the small-yet-growing New Seasons Church, which was meeting elsewhere.

Raleigh White agreed to shift its morning worship from the traditional 11 a.m. time to 9:45 a.m. to accommodate the church plant, which is being sponsored by Sherwood Baptist in Albany and Unity Baptist in Sylvester.

The Anglo congregation’s decline continued as members died or moved away, while New Seasons’ evangelistic outreach resulted in 78 individuals baptized in 2016, 80 in 2017 and five thus far this year. Popular with local military personnel who came and went with transfers, the congregation still managed to grow to 130 members while, as of last count, Raleigh White numbered only 20, even though it reports 253 in Southern Baptist Convention data.

New Seasons also became known for a strong commitment to community outreach. When tornadoes in January 2017 ravaged much of south Georgia, New Seasons was on the front lines, establishing the Raleigh White facilities as a donation and distribution center for supplies.

But Glass said he noticed a cooling of the relationship within six months of sharing Raleigh White’s facilities. As New Seasons added members, it began to use more of the church’s facilities, such as the gym with the basketball court, fellowship hall and Sunday School rooms.

Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index newsjournal cited sources who asked for anonymity that a number of Raleigh White’s members no longer shared their pastor’s vision of the future, and they tallied a list of complaints such as New Seasons members not returning dinner plates to their proper storage location on kitchen shelves.

As tensions continued, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board –- through state missionaries and church planter consultants like Jimmy Baughcum — increased the mediation with little success. One step forward, two steps back, as Baughcum observed. Wunch approached Raleigh White with fellow pastors who worked for middle ground but found none.

When Kinsaul retired as Raleigh White’s pastor, New Seasons honored him with a special service where they collected a love offering as he entered retirement.

The situation deteriorated further this year when Raleigh White planned its annual homecoming and gave a 30-day notice on Feb. 18 to New Seasons that it would not be able to use the facilities until 2:30 p.m. on the March 18 homecoming.

Glass tried to discuss the inconvenience it would mean for New Seasons, which would basically delay its services by several hours. Raleigh White relented and agreed to allow New Seasons to begin their services at noon, just 30 minutes later than normal.

The problem came to a head on the day of the homecoming, The Index reported, when visitors, unaware of the change, showed up early for the worship service and were turned away at the doors of the church. A daughter of one of the visitors asked to use the restroom and was told she could use the convenience store down the road. It was suggested to other visitors that they remain in their cars until their service began.

One pastor, whose wife had passed away, showed up early to discuss his wife’s funeral arrangements with Glass who was going to preside at her memorial service. He was likewise turned away.

That event was too much for the association’s leaders with alleged racism now being played out in the open. Three days later, on March 21, the association’s Administrative Committee met and voted to recommend a motion to remove Raleigh White from fellowship.

Five days later, on March 26, Wunch along with the association’s moderator, William “Butch” Knight, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Albany, and associate moderator Chad Ellis, senior pastor of Gillionville Baptist Church, met with two deacons from Raleigh White. They stated the intention of the association to withdraw fellowship from the church if it did not repent of its actions against New Seasons.

The meeting did not go well, Wunch told The Index. That led to the April 3 called meeting of the Mallary association’s Executive Committee.

After a little longer than 90 minutes of soul-searching questioning, members voted to withdraw fellowship until the Raleigh White congregation repents, which will lead to immediate reconciliation.

Glass, pastor of New Seasons, said he and his congregation “felt the love tonight from our association, from the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Convention for supporting us in this difficult ordeal. These brothers not only talked the talk but walked the walk in standing up against racism.

“Our heart is deeply saddened but the Bible teaches that we are all one in the body of Christ. This vote was about the need for ministry to continue in His name and not allowing the sin of racism or mistreating other people to continue unchallenged.

“I am not happy for what happened, but I am happy about the path to reconciliation that will follow true repentance,” Glass said. “I thank God for planting His voice in the hearts of the leaders of our association and for the churches taking a brave stand. For them, this was not about race but was about doing what is right in the eyes of God.”

Knight, who had been in constant touch with Raleigh White leadership in recent days, said his contact with them in the afternoon of April 3 did not produce the hoped-for results.

“I implored them to acknowledge the wrong they had repeatedly committed and offered to have someone from the association to walk down the path to reconciliation with them,” Knight said. “I was informed that they would have their own meeting at 6 p.m., an hour prior to our meeting, and no one from their church would attend our meeting.”

Knight said the association has made plans with churches to host New Seasons on a temporary basis, if they have no place to worship this coming Sunday.

More than 2,000 miles away in San Diego, Calif., pastor A.B. Vines and his congregation, also named New Seasons, had prayed April 2 for the association’s meeting, and he watched it via live streaming .

Vines said he believes it is the first time a Baptist church has been disfellowshipped for racism. “We have preached about it, have talked about it, passed resolutions about it, but this is the first time we have actually taken action about it,” he noted.

The Albany congregation is one of 18 churches and church plants in the New Seasons nationwide network which Vines heads. Vines currently is president of the California Southern Baptist Convention and will be a nominee for first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention at the June 12-13 annual meeting in Dallas.

Vines first became familiar with Albany in his younger days while stationed as a Marine at the logistics base in the city. He noted that this is a third attempt to plant a church in Albany.

“Tonight is not a celebration. But we know that Marcus is a great guy with a heart for reaching Albany for our Lord,” Vines said. “I will continue to pray that Raleigh White will repent and that this will not be permanently etched on their tombstone.”

As for New Seasons’ immediate future is, Glass is not sure.

“I am praying that the heart of Jesus will set in before next Sunday with the members of Raleigh White. Regardless, we will continue to show to them the love that God has shown to us,” Glass said. “And unless we are told otherwise, on Sunday morning I’m driving to 2804 Phillips Drive in Albany and continue to share the facilities with them.

“If not, I know the churches of this association are behind us and will help us grow our ministry elsewhere.”

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  • Joe Westbury/Christian Index