By Bob Allen
The churches of Southern Baptist ministers who conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in Alabama risk losing their standing with the Alabama Baptist Convention, according to a statement added to the convention website Feb. 10.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and Alabama Baptist State Convention President Travis Coleman Jr., senior minister at First Baptist Church in Prattville, Ala., issued a joint plea to “stand strong for biblical marriage” in the wake of Alabama this week becoming the 37th state in the nation to permit gay marriage.
News coverage of first same-sex weddings across the state highlighted participation by a Baptist preacher. Ellin Jimmerson, identified as minister to the community at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., gained attention in national media including the Los Angeles Times and Huffington Post for performing one of the first same-sex marriages in the Deep South.
Alabama Baptist leaders, who earlier passed a resolution disapproving of a judge’s decision to strike down state laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, said Feb. 10 the “vast and overwhelming majority of Alabama Baptist leaders and other church members continue to affirm the biblical view of marriage and the historic declarations that Alabama Baptists have made concerning the marriage relationship.”
“Therefore, any church that allows staff members to officiate at same-sex ceremonies is clearly outside biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality, and they demonstrate that they are not in like-minded fellowship or friendly cooperation with Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists,” Lance and Coleman said in the joint statement.
Weatherly Heights Baptist Church, identified on its website as “an inclusive, discovering fellowship,” lists both the Alabama and Southern Baptist conventions among ministry partners, along with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Baptist World Alliance and other local, regional and national ministries.
Jimmerson, a documentary filmmaker promoting a documentary on illegal immigration titled The Second Cooler, said she was ordained to the ministry at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church but is not a member of the church staff. She started using “minister to the community” to describe her work with immigrants as a handle for reporters writing about the movie.
She said if the statement by Lance and Coleman refers to Weatherly Heights, it is based on a mistaken assumption that she is a paid staff member.
David Freeman, pastor of Weatherly Heights Baptist Church since 1999, declined comment.
Jimmerson said she was unaware that the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions had adopted a resolution critical of U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade’s Jan. 23 ruling striking down the state’s gay marriage ban until over the weekend, after she had already agreed to take part in the Wedding Week event organized by local LGBT activists.
Jimmerson said she never expected to receive so much attention for accepting an invitation to deliver a homily and perform a wedding. “The women were Baptist, and they asked for a Baptist minister,” she said. “They wanted a traditional wedding.”
While a minister from another faith tradition in her position might risk being defrocked by her denomination, Jimmerson said, a Baptist distinctive is that ordination is a matter between the candidate and his or her local church.
The Decatur, Ga.,-based CBF has a policy against hiring staff or missionaries that are openly gay but does not attempt to dictate doctrine to the local church. In November First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., one of the highest-profile CBF churches in Georgia and located next door to the CBF headquarters, made news for choosing its first-ever openly gay deacon.
The Southern Baptist Convention, of which the 3,200-church Alabama Baptist Convention is an affiliate, forbids churches which “act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.”
In November another SBC affiliate, the Kentucky Baptist Convention removed Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., for indicating its willingness to perform same-sex weddings. Before that the SBC Executive Committee ousted New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., for adopting a “third way” stance neither affirming nor condemning of homosexuality.