News Articles

D.C. church’s lesbian co-pastors spark ‘concern’

WASHINGTON (BP) — A Washington D.C. church’s decision to call a legally-married lesbian couple as co-pastors has led a fellow District of Columbia Baptist Convention pastor to call for “prayerful dialog” between convention leadership and the church. A Southern Baptist Convention seminary president suggested the DCBC should disfellowship the congregation.

Meanwhile, DCBC executive director Robert Cochran told Baptist Press the convention has “no plans to disassociate” with the church and he “has never discussed the issue of homosexuality with” the congregation’s leaders.

Calvary Baptist Church in Washington — a congregation that voted in 2012 to cease cooperation with the SBC — approved Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen Jan. 8 as its new senior ministers, according to a news release from the church. The two women were married in 2014, according to media reports.

Joseph Lyles, pastor of Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., told BP he was “surprised” and “concerned” that a sister DCBC church would call openly homosexual co-pastors. Fort Foote is a Southern Baptist church.

Lyles, a former president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, said he finds it “difficult” to affirm same-sex marriage “with a biblical basis.”

When it comes to cooperation within a state Baptist convention, “I would hope that lines would be drawn,” Lyles said. Though each local church “is a sovereign body, I would think that if a church is moving” toward affirmation of homosexual behavior, convention leaders should “have a serious dialogue and prayerful discussion with them.”

Lyles added, “My loving, compassionate side would not [want to disfellowship] them from the convention … Hopefully they will come around and see the biblical light.”

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Calvary’s call of lesbian pastors represents “a very dramatic challenge” for the DCBC.

If the convention does “not expel Calvary Baptist Church from their membership,” Mohler said Jan. 10 on his podcast The Briefing, “then they by very definition simply become a convention that will accept, that indeed does accept a church that has legally married lesbian co-pastors in terms of their own membership.”

Cochran told BP in written comments, “We have no plans to disassociate [with Calvary]. To the best of my knowledge, the D.C. Baptist Convention, due to its respect for local congregational autonomy, has never withdrawn fellowship from any congregation.”

Cochran said he is “certain that homosexuality has been discussed” at some point since the founding of Calvary in 1861 and the DCBC in 1877. But, he added, “I can state with certainty that I have never discussed the issue of homosexuality with leaders at Calvary.”

The present fellowship of churches in the DCBC, Cochran said, is comparable to the fellowship during the Civil War, when Calvary “chose to be abolitionist while other Baptist congregations in D.C. and elsewhere remained in opposition to that position. We maintained our Baptist fellowship among ourselves as well as our fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention throughout the Civil War and beyond.”

Carol Blythe, chair of Calvary’s Ministerial Selection Committee, said in a statement, “As we met and talked with Sally and Maria about their vision for pastoral leadership at Calvary, we were struck by their deep faith and commitment to being part of a Gospel community.”

Sarratt is associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville (S.C.) Health System and associate minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Calvary reported. She served previously as a global service corps missionary through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Swearingen is associate chaplain at Furman University.

Sarratt and Swearingen said in accepting Calvary’s call, “We have found it easy to fall in love with Calvary and its longstanding commitment to be a voice of justice and compassion for those who perpetually find the wholeness of their humanity disregarded and maligned.”

Calvary has historic ties with the SBC, according to a 1994 history of the congregation by Carl and Olive Tiller. In the mid-20th century, former SBC President Brooks Hays and SBC Executive Committee chairman George Fraser were among its members.

The congregation split its missions giving between Northern and Southern Baptists “until 1988, when the fundamentalist shift in the Southern Baptist Convention … appeared to be irreversible,” the Tillers wrote. Calvary then reduced its gifts to SBC causes.

In 2014, Calvary “reaffirmed” the ordination of Allyson Robinson, who was ordained as a male but sought reaffirmation of that ordination after transitioning to present himself as a woman, according to media reports at the time. Robinson went on to serve as Calvary’s transitions pastor.

Among present “affiliations” listed on Calvary’s website are the Alliance of Baptists; American Baptist Churches USA; the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists; the CBF; the DCBC; the Baptist World Alliance; the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America; and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.