By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist church in Missouri whose pastor is awaiting trial on felony sex charges has been voted out of its local association for failure to report or contribute financially for the last two years.
Lamine Baptist Association voted April 27 to remove both First Baptist Church of Stover, Mo., and another congregation from its membership rolls for non-compliance with the association’s constitution and bylaws.
The 100-member congregation located in a rural community on the edge of the Ozark foothills, 50 miles southwest of Jefferson City, drew scrutiny last fall when its 42-year-old pastor, Travis Smith, was charged with forcible rape, statutory rape, sexual abuse and sodomy alleged to have occurred in 1998, 1999 and 2005.
Smith, the church’s pastor since 2006, was acquitted of similar charges in 2011. His next court date is May 7 for a status update with a new lawyer after his original counsel was removed from the case.
Rafael Murillo, Lamine Baptist Association’s director of missions, said May 2 there was no discussion of the pastor’s legal problems when the association removed the Stover church during its regular semi-annual meeting last Saturday at First Baptist Church in Versailles, Mo.
Murillo said the association’s credentials committee sent letters to both First Baptist, Stover, and the Church at Osage Hills requesting they come into compliance with a constitutional requirement that churches “be in cooperative support with the programs of the association” in the preceding two years.
Murillo said the Osage Hills church responded that their congregation still identifies with the association, but First Baptist in Stover said its members “no longer feel the association is mission oriented in its use of their financial funding.”
The DOM said both churches were invited to reapply “if they comply with the association’s constitution and bylaws.”
One pastor who attended the meeting — his first in two years – said in a circulated e-mail that the association “has changed attitudes toward the church.” One of Smith’s staunchest defenders two years ago is now a leading critic, he said, and sentiment is growing to “do something about the problem.”
“While they are not addressing the real reason for refusing to seat the messengers, at least they are taking action against a church which has a sex predator for its pastor,” the pastor reported.
Lamine Baptist Association’s governing documents prohibit the body from exercising “legislative or judicial authority” over any church but reserve the right “to refuse to seat messengers from any church which shows itself to be unorthodox in faith or practice, or which willfully and persistently creates discord by refusing to comply with the spirit of the Constitution and By-Laws.”
A Missouri Baptist Convention spokesperson said last fall that state convention officials were “deeply grieved” by the allegations against Smith. The spokesperson said Missouri Baptists “respect the independence of the local church and have no direct authority over it,” and that leaders were praying “church members will have the wisdom, grace and courage to act biblically in their dealings with their pastor.”
Since October, First Baptist Church in Stover has removed both the Missouri Baptist Convention and Lamine Baptist Association from affiliations listed on the church website, but still lists its affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention.
The SBC, America’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics, says it has no authority to dictate who a local church calls as pastor, though the convention has acted in the past to remove congregations that affirm homosexuality.
The convention’s faith statement opposes women being called as senior pastors, but discipline on that issue typically occurs at the associational level rather than the state or national.
Smith stands accused of six felonies involving two different women who were minors when the incidents allegedly occurred. The alleged crimes are all Class C felonies, punishable by up to seven years in prison, with the exception of forcible rape, an unclassified felony that can carry a sentence of up to 30 years.