The Southern Baptist Convention’s top administrative body voted to cut ties with two congregations on Tuesday — an LGBTQ-friendly church in North Carolina that had itself quit the denomination decades ago and a New Jersey congregation it cited for “alleged discriminatory behavior.”
The votes of the Executive Committee came at the end of a two-day meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, even as the committee copes with a Department of Justice investigation. The federal-level scrutiny follows a blistering report by a consultant earlier this year into sexual abuse in Southern Baptist settings and mistreatment of survivors by past Executive Committee officials.
The committee on Tuesday approved a statement that College Park Baptist Church of Greensboro, North Carolina, was not in “friendly cooperation” due to its “open affirmation, approval and endorsement of homosexual behavior,” which conflicts with the denomination’s theological conservative positions.
In fact, College Park had voted in 1999 to leave the denomination, and its website makes a point of stating it’s not a member of the Southern Baptist Convention but rather of more progressive Baptist bodies.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the Executive Committee decided now to put the matter to a vote. But Executive Committee Chairman Jared Wellman said afterward that the convention still had the congregation on its rolls until now.
On its website, the church describes itself as an “LGBTQIA Affirming Baptist Church” and says it “fully welcomes and affirms all persons without distinction regarding race, ethnicity, national origin, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other human category.”
The committee, in a separate vote, declared that Amazing Grace Community Church of Franklinville, New Jersey, was no longer in friendly cooperation. It cited its “lack of cooperation … to resolve concerns regarding alleged discriminatory behavior.”
Requests for comment from both congregations via phone and email were not immediately returned.
Since Baptist congregations are self-governing, the denomination can’t force them to follow their policies, but it can effectively expel them by declaring them not in “friendly cooperation” if they don’t conform to denominational stances in particular areas, such as for pro-LGBTQ polices, alleged support for racism or alleged failure in responding adequately to child sexual abuse, such as employing offenders as pastors.
There could be more congregations in the last category in the pipeline.
The committee learned that more than 200 referrals had been made to a newly established hotline about alleged mishandling of abuse cases by SBC churches or organizations.
That news came from the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force — created after the release of consultant Guidepost Solutions’ scathing report earlier this year into the sexual abuse of children in SBC settings and the mistreatment of survivors by the Executive Committee.
Mike Keahbone, vice chair of the task force, said it is working to hire personnel to receive and investigate reports of abuse and of mishandling abuse in Southern Baptist circles.
The convention said in August that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the convention. The DOJ didn’t confirm the report, but the convention suggested in a statement that it related to sexual abuse. On Tuesday, the committee voted to transfer $500,000 from investments to its operating budget, in part to respond to that investigation.