SBC Splits With D.C. Convention Over Lesbian Pastors

lesbian pastors

What began as a message of unity more than a century ago has ended.

The Southern Baptist Convention has now officially severed its ties with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention after the latter refused to remove a married lesbian couple as co-pastors from a church in the nation’s capital.

More than a century ago, the D.C. Convention entered into a dual affiliation with Southern Baptists and the American Baptist Churches USA, intended as a unity message in the nation’s capital.  

The symbolism expanded to a triple alignment in 1997, when the D.C. convention voted to align with the predominantly black Progressive National Baptist Convention, and later to quadruple when D.C. Baptists joined the Baptist World Alliance.

The experiment failed over the question, “What do you believe?”

Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., voted in favor of installing lesbian couple Maria Swearingen and Sally Sarratt as co-pastors in January 2017, which sparked the controversy.

In February, the Executive Committee of the SBC gave the DCBC 90 days to “secure” the “removal of any churches from its fellowship that have demonstrated a faith or practice affirming, approving or endorsing homosexual behavior.” It did not.

The split signals the end of that grace period.

The separation was anticipated. Robert Cochran, executive director of the D.C. convention, sent a letter this week to Interim SBC Executive Committee President D. August Boto “indicating that the DCBC has not taken action the Executive Committee hoped it would when it issued its Feb. 20 decision. In a statement, Boto said, “In his letter, Cochran divulged that he anticipated an end to our relationship.”

The SBC’s constitution calls for exclusion of churches that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.” American Baptist Churches USA is on record as declaring “the practice of homosexuality” incompatible with Christian teaching but recognizing “a variety of understandings” on the topic across the denomination.

Calvary Baptist Church, a 155-year-old congregation founded by abolitionists, severed ties with the SBC in 2012. After the church hired Maria Swearingen and Sally Sarratt in 2017, the SBC said the D.C. convention tacitly approved the calling of married lesbian co-pastors by a member church.

Cochran said the District of Columbia Baptist Convention “has not affirmed, approved or endorsed homosexual behavior in any way at any time” and “respects the official statements” on homosexuality by both American and Southern Baptists even though it has not acted to remove the lesbian pastors at Calvary Baptist.

The final severing of ties disqualifies the D.C. Convention from receiving and disbursing funds through the Cooperative Program, a unified spending plan in place since 1925 that allows churches to contribute to both the national SBC and their respective affiliated state convention.

Boto said he will soon be sending letters to churches in Washington, D.C., that are supported by SBC finances directed through the DCBC to let them know that the latter is no longer recognized as a “Baptist body authorized to receive and disburse Cooperative Program and other SBC contributions.”

However, in his statement, he indicated that the Executive Committee has a “willingness to consider resuming its relationship with the DCBC in the future” if Calvary “repents of its actions,” or if the church is removed from the DCBC.

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.