COLUMBUS, Ga. (BP)–Messengers to the 177th annual session of the Georgia Baptist Convention divided over cultural/theological issues in voting on proposed constitutional requirements for church membership within the convention during their Nov. 16-17 meeting in Columbus.
An amendment to the state constitution had been proposed by the convention’s executive committee that would have put into place a process for withdrawing fellowship from member churches that 1) affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior or 2) engage in non-biblical charismatic worship practices that are divisive and disruptive. Opponents of the amendment stated their objections were based on Baptist polity and that the issue ran deeper than homosexuality and charismatic practice.
At the suggestion of the committee bringing the report, the amendment was divided before the vote so that the homosexuality issue and the charismatic issue could be dealt with separately. The part of the amendment dealing with homosexuality did pass by a large majority; but the vote related to charismatic practices was close enough to require a ballot vote. The vote was 1,190 for and 747 against. The 61.44 percent voting yes did not meet the two-thirds requirement for passage.
In debate of the amendment addressing homosexuality, Bill Self, pastor of John’s Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta warned that speaking about homosexuality “is very perilous.”
“We are a bottom-up people, not a top-down people. ? “I want to ask one simple question: this year the homosexual — who’s next?” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Self as telling the convention.
Executive committee member Frank Page of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta quipped back to Self, “[W]e are a top-down people because we take our direction from the very top and it is the Word of God,” according to the newspaper account. And, Page said, “It’s a legitimate question, ‘Who’s next.’ Anyone who desires and follows a direction directly opposed to the Word of God — they are next.”
Condemnation of homosexuality should be matched by compassion for homosexuals, Gerald Harris, a Marietta pastor and new convention president, said in presenting the proposal to the convention, the Journal-Constitution reported. He headed the membership study committee that recommended the constitutional amendment.
. “The unanimous verdict of Scripture is that the practice of homosexuality is a sin,” Harris was quoted as saying. “However, homosexuals are included among neighbors we are commanded to love.”
Harris said Baptists should deplore “meanness, revulsion, rejection, violence, scorn and contempt” toward homosexuals and should stand for “judicial and civil equality of homosexuals, but not special rights.”
The proposed amendment “is not an attempt to monitor churches or tell churches what to do … ,” Harris qualified, according to the Journal-Constitution report, “but we do feel we have a responsibility for maintaining the integrity of our convention.”
Having that standard included in the convention’s constitution “gives us a concrete means of dealing with a problem which we did not have in place until this time,” said Oscar Cope, pastor of First Baptist Church, Fairburn, and chairman of the convention’s executive committee, the newspaper reported. “At any time, we could have had someone get up on the floor of a meeting and want to oust a church on this issue.” Instead of dealing with it on the floor of a meeting, the constitutional amendment provides an orderly process “to resolve problems in a Christlike manner,” Cope was quoted as saying.
Speaking in favor of limiting charismatic worship practices in Baptist churches, executive committee member Mike Everson of Second Baptist Church, Warner Robins, said the convention needs “clearly defined lines about where we should stand as Baptists. There are churches in the state of Georgia that are practicing being ‘slain in the spirit,’ barking like dogs, roaring like lions. …We are not telling churches they can’t do that. They ought not to be doing that and calling themselves Baptists,” the Journal-Constitution reported.
But Ron Hinson of First Baptist Church in Blakely called the proposal “a can of worms,” asking, “How can we determine in a specific location, week by week, what might occur, whether a congregation is truly approving or promoting that type of activity? I would question whether we have a real capacity to do that,” the newspaper reported.
Just over 2,400 elected messengers attended the Nov. 16-17 meeting in Columbus, the lowest registration of any Georgia convention in more than 10 years.
Harris was elected state president by acclamation when no other candidate was nominated. Harris is a member of the state convention’s executive committee and is pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta.
The four newly elected vice presidents are DeWitt Cox, retired GBC staff member and father of outgoing convention president Frank Cox; Oscar Cope, chairman of the GBC executive committee and pastor of Fairburn First Baptist Church; Tim Dowdy, pastor of Eagle’s Landing Baptist Church in Stockbridge; and Fred McCoy, a vocational evangelist from Warner Robins.
A record 1999 Cooperative Program budget of $42,600,000 was approved, a 5.97 percent increase over 1998. After allowing for a category of “shared responsibilities,” or 12.26 percent of the budget, the rest of the budget will be divided equally between SBC and GBC ministries, 43.87 percent each. This is slightly down from the 43.94 Georgia Baptists gave to the SBC last year.
The Convention passed a resolution regarding President Clinton. It stated Georgia Baptists are committed to pray for the nation and the president, they decry his conduct, they urge him to be fully repentant and they call for him to be held accountable in some way. The resolution went on to say that Georgia Baptists commit themselves “to sexual purity in all ways as a protector of marriage and the family, which is the divine mandate … .”
Prior to the convention, a major evangelistic effort was held in the host city. Approximately 2,350 Georgia Baptist volunteers blitzed the city in a door-to-door visitation on Saturday morning, Nov. 14, and they were joined by a host of additional volunteers in staging a gigantic block party on the city’s River Walk that afternoon. Almost 22,000 homes were visited and 525 professions of faith in Christ were recorded.
The 1999 Georgia Baptist Convention will be Nov. 15-16 in Macon.
Compiled by Art Toalston, with reporting by William Neal & the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.