ROANOKE — The Baptist General Association of Virginia has upheld a committee’s decision to end the state association’s affiliation with a church which ordained an openly gay man to the ministry earlier this fall.
In the opening session of its annual meeting Nov. 13, BGAV messengers voted 164-426 against a motion to refer the decision to a study committee.
In October, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s executive committee asked Ginter Park Baptist Church in Richmond to withdraw its BGAV membership by Dec. 31 after the congregation ordained an openly gay man in September. The request stipulated that if Ginter Park declined to withdraw by that date, the BGAV would no longer accept its financial contributions — action which would essentially end the church’s affiliation with the state association.
At the BGAV meeting, Richmond pastor Jim Somerville said dismissal of a church was too significant to leave to the executive committee.
“I believe the executive committee acted in accordance with BGAV principles, but this is a big decision and the executive committee shouldn’t make it alone,” said Somerville, pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond. He added he didn’t want to open a discussion about homosexuality or church autonomy on the floor of the BGAV.
Instead, he offered a motion to refer the action to a study committee to be appointed by the BGAV president, which would report at the 2013 annual BGAV meeting.
“I’d like to think that that the newspaper headlines after this meeting will be that we focused on missions, not that we argued about homosexuality,” he said.
Mark Ross, pastor of Marion (Va.) Baptist Church, supported the motion because Christians have “been wrong about many things and many of us would not be here today or in our churches if we let the past determine our future.”
“Let’s look at what God would have us do, not in the past, but in the future,” he said.
Raymond Cady, deacon chair at Ginter Park church, also supported the motion. “We are glad to be here,” Cady said. “We would like to be part of the great things happening in the life of Virginia Baptists.”
But Travis Collins, pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond, said,“The executive committee’s action is consistent with what we have done before. … It’s consistent with my understanding of Scripture and probably with the understanding of the vast majority of Virginia Baptists.”
Don Davidson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., said few people would be persuaded by a year of study. Instead, it would be a year of “slow drift of being in the news and being discussed.”
“We are known as a moderate convention, though I’m on the conservative end of that,” Davidson said. “And I’m at home with that. But this [ordination] is a step too far.”
Carey Snellings, pastor of Hunting Creek Baptist Church in Big Island, Va., said when he moved to Virginia from Maryland, “I was concerned about being affiliated with the BGAV, for reasons just like this.”
“I encourage our assembly to realize that the only thing we need to study is God’s holy word, which is authoritative in this matter,” he said. “I also encourage the assembly to consider the ramifications on pastors like myself and the churches we lead. I encourage the assembly not just to defeat but to resoundingly defeat the motion.”
This would be the first time the BGAV has dismissed a church over homosexuality, but it has addressed the issue in the past. A 1993 resolution called homosexual behavior “sinful and unacceptable to Christians” and that statement is typically included in the state association’s identity documents. A report from the BGAV’s Christian life committee which drew the same conclusion was “commended to the churches” in 1998.
The BGAV’s ties to both the University of Richmond and Averett University were ended over homosexuality, though Averett’s association was restored last year when the school clarified its stance in a way the BGAV regarded as compatible with its position.
Ginter Park Baptist Church was organized in 1916 and is also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists. Another affiliation — the Richmond Baptist Association — is under study after the RBA appointed a committee Oct. 21 to bring a recommendation to the group’s spring meeting.
The man ordained Sept. 16, Brandon Scott McGuire, is not on the ministerial staff of Ginter Park. He reportedly feels called to minister to persons with disabilities and special needs and to their families, and sought ordination in preparation for that role.
Robert Dilday ([email protected]) is managing editor of the Religious Herald.