ATLANTA (BP)–The Georgia Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board have announced plans to withdraw funding from the Atlanta Baptist Association following the association’s decision to remain in fellowship with two homosexual-affirming churches.
In separate but similar statements, Robert White, executive director of the Georgia convention, and Robert E. Reccord, president of NAMB, expressed comparable reactions to the association action, along with parallel commitments to not remain in partnership with an entity that affirms homosexual behavior.
White announced the Georgia convention’s administration committee voted Feb. 6 “with deep conviction and a profound sense of sorrow to cut off all special request, Bold Mission Thrust, and similar funds to the Atlanta Baptist Association.” He explained that those funds are used during activities such as large sporting events in Atlanta.
Also, according to White, the administration committee will recommend to the GBC executive committee in March that the state convention continue its funding of joint missionary personnel through Dec. 31, 2001. Following that date, White told Baptist Press, the GBC would fund no work through the Atlanta Baptist Association.
Reccord pledged that NAMB would “stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder with Dr. White and the Georgia Baptist Convention.”
“We do not believe the church can condone ongoing behaviors that the Scripture clearly labels as sin,” Reccord said. “One role of the church in today’s society is to serve as a conscience for the community even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular to do so.
“Some claim that even Christ forgave the woman caught in adultery, but they conveniently forget that he also charged her to ‘go and sin no more,'” Reccord said.
NAMB provides funds through the Georgia convention for six career missionaries in the Atlanta association, three of whom serve in inner-city ministry centers, two as associational staff and one as a church planter. NAMB’s share of the salary and benefits for those positions is approximately $62,000. Another six church planters, some of whom are bivocational, only receive a financial supplement which totals about $15,000.
Asked if those affected staff would be offered missionary positions elsewhere if necessary, Reccord explained that NAMB’s actions have nothing to do with the missionary personnel. “We’ve taken no action against and cast no aspersions on any of the missionary staff. But one of our mission partners, the Atlanta Baptist Association, has taken an untenable position that will not allow us to continue to fund their work,” he said. “Although these missionaries are technically employees of either the state convention or the association, if they request other assignments, we would certainly want to try to help them.”
The association voted Jan. 30 to defeat a motion to dismiss Oakhurst Baptist Church and Virginia-Highland Baptist Church. The state convention withdrew fellowship from both churches in 1999 for “affirming, approving and endorsing homosexual behavior.” Both churches deny homosexuality is a sin, allow practicing homosexuals to hold positions of church leadership and affirm same-sex blessings. The vote also places the association in a position contrary to the Southern Baptist Convention which states that churches which “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior” are “not in cooperation” with the denomination.
White and the GBC administration committee called on the association to reconsider its action. “It is our prayer,” White said, “that the association will recognize the clear statements of the Bible regarding homosexuality as sin and vote to withdraw fellowship” from the two churches, Oakhurst Baptist and Virginia-Highland Baptist.
Joel Harrison, executive director of the association, told Baptist Press Feb. 7, “I’m not bitter over this, but I do want to say again that the association does not affirm homosexuality.” Harrison said, “I’m praying and we have our people praying about it. I’m working to try to see how we can come to a Christian resolution.” The previous week he said the association’s administration committee would be meeting in mid-February to begin the process of studying the issue of autonomy. “Our study will answer the question of how far is too far and what is out of bounds for churches that affiliate with the association,” Harrison said.
White said the association’s invoking local church autonomy as a primary reason for retaining the offending churches was unacceptable. Reccord said “while local church autonomy is a cherished Baptist distinctive, there is a Baptist distinctive that supersedes it: the authority of Scripture and our accountability to it.”
Reccord pledged to “minister to the association with grace” while pledging to stand with the Georgia convention, which said it does not intend to abandon the state’s largest and capital city. “There are nine other associations in the Atlanta metropolitan area,” White said. “We will continue to relate to and work with any church which chooses to cooperate with the Georgia Baptist Convention.”