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Nashville councilman’s church has lesbian minister, newspaper reports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Nashville councilman’s effort to add protections for homosexuals to city law, it turns out, may include a religious motivation.

The councilman, Chris Ferrell, is a member of a Baptist church that hired an open lesbian as its associate pastor for children and families last May, according to an article in The Tennessean’s Jan. 26 edition.

The 200-member church, Glendale Baptist in Nashville, was described in the newspaper as “a renegade congregation of sorts for its ordinations of female pastors, its views on God and the Bible and its affirming attitude toward homosexuals.”

The church is affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, an organization based in Washington, D.C., that has endorsed homosexual rights, including ordination to the clergy.

Glendale also claims affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention as well as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a denomination-like breakaway from the biblically conservative SBC.

The church, in actuality, is not Southern Baptist because its actions are in violation of the SBC constitution’s prohibition of “churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”

Ferrell, the councilman, was referenced but not quoted in the article about the lesbian minister, April Baker, 39. An article in The Tennessean the next day, however, focused more squarely on Ferrell, a graduate of Furman University and Vanderbilt University Divinity School. Ferrell described himself as having been “very conservative” until “an eye-opening” involvement in missions in the Middle East and Africa called into question his rearing “in a suburban community where it was very easy to have all the answers to everything.”

The Jan. 27 article quoted Ferrell as saying, “… if I’m not fighting for what I believe in, why do I want to be in office in the first place?”

Ferrell’s initiatives in Nashville include a “living wage” for city employees and a 1997 ordinance regulating local adult fare businesses, which has proved unenforceable and, according to the paper, could cost the city $500,000 in opponents’ legal fees.

Glendale Baptist Church will be seeking a new senior pastor to replace Mark Caldwell, who retires in March. The Tennessean’s Jan. 26 article quoted Annette Sisson, a member of the search committee that recruited Baker, as saying, “Some of the more traditional Baptist pastor candidates would not be a good fit [at Glendale].”

Baker, the church’s lesbian minister, told the newspaper, “I am merely one of the ministers of the church. Not the woman minister. Not the lesbian minister. Just one of the ministers who tries every day to follow as closely as I can to the teachings of Jesus.”

Ferrell’s proposed change in Nashville law validating the homosexual lifestyle gives no exemption to religious institutions in employment decisions involving homosexuals. The measure had passed two of three required readings but was deferred during a Jan. 21 council. A separate measure has been introduced that would provide an exemption for religious organizations and is slated for a second reading Feb. 4.

Ferrell’s proposal has concerned Southern Baptist Convention officials charged with the responsibility of recommending convention sites for the SBC annual meeting. Nashville has been selected as the site of the 2005 SBC annual meeting.

Also voicing concern: LifeWay Christian Resources, with more than 1,500 employees in its Nashville headquarters, and the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, also based in Nashville.

Under the proposal, the words “sexual orientation” would be added to Metro Nashville’s Fair Employment and Housing Law stipulating that people cannot be discriminated against because of their “race, color, religion, national origin or sex.” The word, “sex,” meanwhile, would be changed to “gender.” The amended law would seek to protect homosexuals from the threat of being fired or denied housing because of their lifestyle.

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