By Bob Allen
A Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregation in Tennessee voted Jan. 10 to marry same-sex couples.
First Baptist Church in Memphis capped a three-month discernment process by adopting a policy extending “privileges afforded to any follower of Christ” without discrimination based on factors including sexual orientation.
The policy enumerates specific but privileges of “baptism, membership, leadership, ordination and marriage.”
David Breckenridge, pastor of the historic congregation since 2008, said the essence of the action was to clarify what members of First Baptist mean by their slogan, “All are welcome, no exceptions.”
“At FBC Memphis all followers of Christ will have equal access to all areas of church life and practice,” Breckenridge said.
Founded in frontier Memphis in 1839, First Baptist Church never lost its pioneering spirit. It was the first Southern Baptist church in Memphis to allow an African-American family to join in the early 1970s.
The congregation began ordaining women as deacons in the 1990s and in 2000 ordained its first woman minister, longtime church member Carol McCall Richardson, who went on to serve as associate pastor until her retirement in 2012.
The church has long included members who are openly gay and two years ago ordained a gay deacon.
It was one of the churches in the area to part ways with the Southern Baptist Convention over disagreement with policies such as the convention’s membership ban on churches which “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
Because of those differences, First Baptist Church’s primary affiliation today is the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an 1,800-church group formed in 1991.
Based in Decatur, Ga., the CBF includes congregations that come down on both sides of the LGBT-inclusion debate. Recently a number of CBF-friendly churches have publicly moved toward a more welcoming stance.
First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., passed a resolution in May to no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The church subsequently withdrew from the South Carolina Baptist Convention at the convention’s request.
A second CBF church in South Carolina was booted from the state convention in November after its pastor performed a same-sex wedding on his own time with permission from the church deacons. The SBC Executive Committee is expected to formally withdraw fellowship from Augusta Heights Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., at its upcoming meeting Feb. 22-23 in Nashville, Tenn.
In June the Executive Committee ousted Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., after the pastor there said from the pulpit he does not believe the Bible condemns “adult, loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships” and advised church leaders he would be open to wed same-sex couples if asked.