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Mo. association ends fellowship with church over female deacons

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (BP)–Messengers to the annual meeting of Cape Girardeau (Mo.) Baptist Association voted Sept. 29 to withdraw fellowship from First Baptist Church, Cape Girardeau, Mo., over the ordination of six women as deacons earlier this year.
Moderator Glen Golden, pastor of First Baptist Church of Delta, said messengers voted 98-41 to remove First Baptist Church of Cape Girardeau from the association, during a meeting at Red Star Baptist Church, Cape Girardeau.
Golden called the action “a course correction that needed to be made for the association.”
John Owen, pastor of First Baptist of Cape Girardeau, questioned the constitutionality of the action and criticized the conduct of the meeting.
The action — on a motion from messenger Donny Ford — took place after messengers voted down a report from their credentials committee which stated women deacons should not be a test for membership. Ford is pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau.
A five-member committee had studied the question — along with ordination of practicing homosexuals and charismatics — in response to a motion from the 1997 annual meeting. The committee decided practicing homosexuals should not be ordained; that the definition of “charismatic” was too broad to define; and that women should not be ordained to the gospel ministry.
The report noted a majority believed women should not be ordained as deacons, but this should not be a test for membership. Golden said the recommendation that women deacons not be a test for membership caused messengers to vote down the entire report “overwhelmingly.”
Owen noted that in the midst of discussion a motion was made to appoint a constitutional revision committee. That motion carried, Owen said, and it appeared to him that First Baptist would be secure in its membership for at least a year while revision was studied.
“It was pointed out and ignored that we, in fact, complied with the constitution,” Owen said. He also questioned a three-minute limit placed on individuals during discussion of the matter. “Our people feel like the due process of deliberation did not take place.”
Concerning the argument of local church autonomy made by those who opposed the action, Golden noted, “There have to be limits to local autonomy. If you’re coming together under the Scriptures of our Lord Jesus Christ, as far as Cape Girardeau Association is concerned, ordination of women is one of those non-negotiables.”
Owen was asked to describe his feelings and those of the congregation over the matter. “Sorrow. There is sorrow. There is some grief. There is some anger. Disappointment. There is the residual feeling of having been dealt with unjustly, unfairly.”
Some in the church have raised the question of the church’s legal rights as a shareholder in an organization that owns property and buildings that it helped purchase and support, Owen added. He did not know if any legal action is contemplated. “It’s all just so recent.”
Owen added, “We do not feel this impedes our Baptist identity in the least, as expressed in the local church. We wish the association well.”
Roy Jones, director of missions for Cape Girardeau association, estimated First Baptist of Cape Girardeau, where he is a member, has been giving $12,000-$14,000 a year to the association, or about 9 percent of its budget. “The loss of people is much more significant,” Jones said. “We did lose some key leaders.”

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  • Tim Palmer