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Inclusive Georgia Church Faces Ousting From SBC

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A Southern Baptist congregation near Atlanta says its ties to the denomination are in jeopardy because it openly welcomes gay members. Jim Conrad, longtime pastor of Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, tells ChurchLeaders the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has put him on notice because of his inclusion policy. Via both phone call and letter, he says, he was informed that the Credentials Committee “will recommend to the Executive Committee at its February 22-23 meeting that our church be deemed ‘not in friendly cooperation’ and be dismissed from membership in the SBC.”

Conrad tells ChurchLeaders, “The Credentials Committee is recommending that our church no longer be welcomed as a member of the SBC because we have welcomed LGBTQ believers as members of our church. While we recognize their rights and responsibility, we respectfully disagree and remain committed to sharing God’s good news with all God’s children.” 

Pastor Jim Conrad: Backlash Is ‘Unfortunate’

Although Towne View’s stance has led to a 30% membership decline, Conrad tells a local TV station, “You never tell someone, ‘No, you’re not welcome.’ ” He describes being asked by Brockton Bates, a gay man who was new to town, if he and his partner would be welcome at the church. That query caught him off guard, the pastor admits, but he concluded that Towne View is a place for everyone who wants to “love Jesus” and “serve Jesus,” no matter their sexual orientation or identity.

Bates, in turn, says he appreciates that stance, calling it “an appropriate one” and “a faithful one.”

“Towne View holds ‘no ill will’ toward the SBC,” says Pastor Conrad. Instead, “We’re ready to move and see what God’s future for our church is going to be.” When ChurchLeaders asked whether he’d challenge a possible disfellowship decision, Conrad said he doesn’t plan to appeal. Once the Executive Committee makes a decision, he says, “We will consider other options for alignment for mission and ministry.”

Is Towne View Evidence of Bigger Shift?

The SBC’s official documents equate homosexuality with sin, but several conservative groups accuse the denomination of softening its stance on LGBTQ issues. In August 2019, Reformation Charlotte posted a video of a sermon by Pastor Conrad and wrote, “If the fruit of the gay celibate movement led by The Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty [Commission] movement has accomplished one thing, it’s been to move churches closer toward full acceptance and inclusion of homosexuality.”

The “Pulpit and Pen” blog also has criticized Conrad, saying the pastor prioritizes personal experience over Scriptural truth, condemns reparative therapy for homosexuals, and preaches egalitarianism. “ERLC and its liberal employees and research fellows should be proud of its work because it has been effective,” the blog states.

The SBC’s Credentials Committee, which reviews complaints against individual churches, is scheduled to submit its next report to the Executive Committee (EC) on February 23. Spokesman Jonathan Howe says the Credentials Committee “does not publicly discuss any submissions they receive unless and until they make a recommendation to the full EC for disfellowship and the EC chooses to act on that recommendation.”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.