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Ga. executive committee proposes stances on homosexuality

ATLANTA (BP)–Georgia Baptist Convention executive committee members, during their Sept. 15 meeting in Atlanta, voted overwhelmingly to send a proposed constitutional amendment to the state convention meeting Nov.16-17 concerning both charismatic worship and homosexuality.
Because there are those “who preach another gospel” it is time for Georgia Baptists to expand requirements for member congregations to be “in harmony and cooperation with … this convention,” according to Augusta pastor Frank Page, a member of the membership committee established by the convention’s executive committee to consider how the convention should respond to churches that affirm homosexuality and encourage charismatic expressions.
Page, who authored a document titled, “The Charismatic Question,” that was adopted as part of a report from the special committee, said the proposed action clarifies “what it means to be a New Testament church — a Georgia Baptist church.”
In presenting the report Gerald Harris, a Marietta pastor who chaired the membership committee, admitted to “a certain amount of fear and trepidation.” He said the committee was “not here to throw stones, but to lift up a standard of righteousness.”
Currently membership and messenger representation for congregations in the convention are tied simply to voluntary contributions to missions causes and being “in harmony and cooperation with the work and purpose of this Convention.”
The proposed amendment, however, specifies that ” a cooperating church does not include (one) which knowingly takes, or has taken, any action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” The proposal also calls for the exclusion of any congregation that “separates itself from historic Baptist tenets through non-biblical worship practices and theology which encourage members to speak in tongues, or participate in the practice of ‘being slain in the spirit,’ or engage in worship practices that are divisive and disruptive and which exclude themselves from the scriptural expression of faith.”
When questioned by fellow executive committee members about biblical texts that address the authenticity of glossolalia (speaking in tongues), those proposing the amendment emphasized that the words “encourage members” distinguish between individuals using a God-given spiritual gift and congregations emphasizing such expressions as being essential or preeminent.
“If it is the gift of God, it needs no encouraging,” said Page in response to a question about how the amendment relates to the Apostle Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians concerning speaking in tongues.
Following the vote, some executive committee members sought to reconsider the earlier motion in order to amend the statement with additional language that more clearly states that distinction. The vote to reconsider failed 35-28.
In proposing the constitutional changes, Harris directed executive committee members to a three-page document concerning homosexuality drafted last year by the GBC Christian Life Commission. The executive Committee, at its September 1997 meeting, adopted this position paper that states “the practice of homosexuality occurs as a result of cultural and individual spiritual and moral maladies.”
The paper concludes by offering practical suggestions for churches to respond by educating people about biblical teachings on homosexuality, working to correct myths, diminishing media efforts to legitimize homosexuality, preventing the practice of homosexuality and ministering to both homosexual persons and their families.
While the executive committee voted to bring the constitutional amendment to the convention at large and adopted the position paper on charismatic practice, they could not alter their own structure so as to formally create a new church membership committee with responsibilities to “counsel and inform new churches concerning membership issues related to the Convention.” Bylaws require a 15-day notice for such action and the committee will therefore take that vote at their November meeting just prior to the annual Convention meeting.
In addition to chairman Harris and Page, the membership committee was comprised of Don Bouldin, Ray Gentry, Emmett Henderson, Janet Hill and Pete Sharber. Serving ex officio were GBC President Frank Cox, Oscar Cope, Danny Watters and J. Robert White. Convention attorney Tom Duvall served as advisor.
White, GBC executive director, said the proposed amendment “is the convention trying to help associations” in dealing with difficult and divisive issues. He stated that the concerns being addressed had nothing to do with diverse worship styles and local church autonomy, but extreme situations involving affirmation of homosexuality and charismatic expressions often associated with the “Toronto blessing” movement.
The amendment would put the executive director in the forefront in dealing with congregations in question. Charges could not come from individuals, but must arise from official action of an association, the GBC executive committee or the convention itself. White said his first goal would be to hopefully “restore” the church.
Clay Bowden of Macon proposed amending the statement concerning the review by the executive director to include “in consultation with” the GBC administration committee. The motion passed and White stated that those are the persons with whom he would consult anyway. He added that he preferred dealing with these matters as quietly as possible.
Following a review of the charges against a congregation, the proposal calls for the executive director to recommend to the executive committee that either the matter be closed or referred to the convention for further action. The amendment closes by stating that “the Convention by vote of the messengers can determine that a church does not qualify as a cooperating church, as defined in Article II, Section 1, whereupon such church shall be excluded from the Convention and all rights and privileges thereof.”
No direct references were made in the meeting to any specific congregations that might be considered in violation of the proposed amendment.
Committee member Dan Fuller of Watkinsville, while stating that he agreed “in spirit” with the presented documents, expressed concern that additional exclusions might be added in the future moving the convention to “become legalistic, looking like hierarchy down”. Suggesting that alien baptism and even blended worship could be deemed as disruptive, he asked, “Where does this all end?”
White responded that the special committee was addressing only the two issues of extreme charismatic behavior and endorsement of homosexuality. He then challenged executive committee members to “govern yourselves” to “see that the convention never intrudes into the local church autonomy.”