WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP)–Churches that approve homosexuality or are affiliated with groups that do so would be excluded from membership in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina under a motion expected to be debated at the convention’s annual meeting Nov. 14-16 in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The motion would address a controversy from this summer when the convention’s committee on nominations rejected board of trustee nominees from churches affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, a group that condones homosexuality and supports “gay marriage.” The rejected persons had been nominated to the Mars Hill College board of trustees.
Bill Sanderson, pastor of Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell, N.C., and president of Conservative Carolina Baptists, will bring the motion, which would require amending the convention’s articles of incorporation. It has the support of convention President David Horton.
“It would bring a great deal of clarity to the stance of the convention,” Horton, pastor of Gate City Baptist Church in Jamestown, N.C., told Baptist Press. “The Alliance of Baptists has made statements that do endorse the homosexual lifestyle…. We just feel that is out of step with the Bible and certainly out of step with what North Carolina Baptists believe on that issue.”
The Alliance of Baptists formed in 1987 out of a disagreement over the continued election of conservative presidents by messengers to the annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. Known initially as the Southern Baptist Alliance, today the group claims more than 120 churches, although North Carolina has the most of any state at 23. In recent years, the organization has become increasingly liberal in its views on homosexuality. For instance:
— In April 2004, the Alliance adopted a statement supporting the legalization of “gay marriage.” “We affirm that the Alliance of Baptists supports the rights of all citizens to full marriage equality,” it read, “and we affirm anew that the Alliance will ‘create places of refuge and renewal for those who are ignored by the church.'”
— At the Alliance convocation in April of this year, Alliance Executive Director Stan Hastey delivered his “State of the Alliance Address,” in which he said the organization eventually would be vindicated for its liberal views on homosexuality. “In the Jesus movement, ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek … slave or free … male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” he said, according to a transcript on the group’s website. “Some day, some blessed day, the same will be said of gay and straight. We are on the right side of history.”
— April Baker, an openly lesbian minister, preached at this year’s Alliance of Baptists convocation. Baker is co-pastor of Glendale Baptist Church, an Alliance-affiliated church in Nashville. In 2003, Baker delivered a lecture on homosexuality and the Bible at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. She began her lecture by asking students to consider their beliefs about several statements, including, “There are occasions when a couple could benefit from living together prior to marriage” and “The Bible is clear in setting forth a Christian sexual ethic.” She then said, “[T]here really aren’t any right or wrong responses to these statements” and then added that there was room “for a variety of opinion…. No one has the truth. We’re all seeking truth.”
Sanderson said his motion is not saying that “we don’t love the homosexual.”
“We do — but we don’t love the sin,” he told BP. “And that’s true of all of us.”
Sanderson’s motion would amend the articles of incorporation to read:
“Among churches not in friendly cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. Such actions include: 1) official public statements affirming, approving or endorsing homosexual behavior, 2) ordination of those whom the church knows have not repented of their homosexual behavior, 3) any pastor of the church performing or the church providing facilities for a marriage or other ceremony, blessing or union of persons of the same sex, 4) affiliating with, contributing money to or maintaining membership in a group which the church knows affirms, approves or endorses homosexual behavior, and 5) accepting as members those whom the church knows have refused to repent of sin, including homosexual behavior. The Board of Directors shall apply these provisions, subject to the right of a church to appeal to the next session of the Convention.”
Sanderson said the motion allows disassociated churches to appeal to the entire body and ask to be reinstated.
“But if they’re found to be [affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists or a similar group], then that means that they would not qualify to be a standing member of our state convention,” he said.
The controversy began this summer when the committee on nominations rejected board of trustee nominees who were members of an Alliance of Baptists-affiliated church. That action led to charges that the committee was making new unpublished requirements for board members.
Jeff Long, chairman of the committee on nominations, told BP the committee was following a 1992 state convention policy that stated the convention would not receive contributions from churches which endorsed homosexuality.
“That’s the precedent we worked from — that if we weren’t going to receive funds from a church that publicly endorsed homosexuality, then how, therefore, could we allow a nominee from a church that publicly endorsed homosexuality?” asked Long, pastor of Parkwood Baptist Church in Gastonia, N.C.
But despite the controversy from this summer, Long said the committee unknowingly approved two board of trustees nominees who are affiliated with Alliance churches. Those nominees will be in the committee’s report Nov. 14-16. The committee, he said, failed to discover that the nominees came from Alliance-affiliated churches, and they slipped through.
“And because people make recommendations with names and they don’t include the other information [as to whether the nominees are Alliance-affiliated], nobody caught it,” he said. “It wasn’t caught on my part until [Oct 31].”
He said it was “too late in the process” to correct the inconsistency.
So, what would happen to the two nominees if Sanderson’s motion passes?
“That’s a constitutional nightmare for a lawyer,” Long said.