First Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia – a flagship Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregation kicked out of the Georgia Baptist Convention in 2009 for calling a woman as pastor – has been excommunicated by the Atlanta Metro Baptist Association because of homosexuality.
“Now I know some of you are going: I didn’t know we were a member of the Metro Baptist Association. Who are those people?”
“Well it doesn’t matter anymore,” Jordan said, eliciting laughter from the congregation, “but when it did matter, actually we were one of the ones that helped to sort of start this organization in 1910, according to the history of our church.”
While not a charter member of the association, Jordan said, First Baptist Decatur was one of the first churches to join.
“A hundred and ten years is not a bad run, but we’ve been kicked out,” the pastor said. “Why? Because the letter says we are in violation of their bylaws. Why are we in violation of their bylaws? Well, because we have welcomed too many people into our church.”
“The too many people, of course, it states here where we have violated their bylaws is that we have welcomed and we have affirmed people that we love and care for whose sexuality don’t line up with what they say is right.”
“And so I give thanks to God for a church that welcomes people who are not welcome other places,” Jordan said.
“What I shared with the executive director of the Atlanta Metro Baptist Association is please let me know as your other churches begin to exclude people who want desperately to be a part of church, who want to be loved and remain in the church where they grew up, but as they begin to be excluded, please let them know that we at First Baptist Decatur will be honored to welcome them with open arms and great love,” the pastor said to applause.
In 2009 the Georgia Baptist Convention declared that First Baptist Church in Decatur is “not a cooperating church,” because it called Julie Pennington-Russell as senior pastor in 2007, ending a 148-year relationship with the state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention. Pennington-Russell, a trailblazer for southern Baptist women in ministry, left in 2015 and now serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Before she left, the Decatur church approved a slate of deacons in 2014 that included a gay man in a committed same-sex relationship.
“Since then we’ve had more gay deacons,” Jordan told the online community news site Decaturish. “We have a transgender deacon. I’ve done same-sex weddings. I’ve been pretty clear about our stance.”
Twenty years ago the Atlanta Baptist Association sparked controversy by refusing to go along with a decision by the Georgia Baptist Convention to withdraw fellowship from two Atlanta churches welcoming and affirming of gays.
The Georgia Baptist Convention expelled Oakhurst Baptist Church and Virginia-Highland Baptist Church in 1999 for “affirming and approving and endorsing homosexual behavior.” In 2001 the Atlanta Baptist Association voted by secret ballot 253-164 to maintain membership with the two congregations after meetings between the churches and the association’s membership team.
“As an association of churches we do not support or condone homosexual activity, but neither can we support the motion to dismiss two churches with a great history of Christian ministry,” the membership committee said at the time. “Our recommendation is that while we do not support or condone homosexual activity we do not affirm the motion to dismiss the churches, and that we pray for the reconciliation of thought and practice in the churches, which will strengthen the bond among us.”
The Georgia Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board responded by freezing funds earmarked for the association’s budget. More than a quarter of the association’s churches withdrew to form a separate association.
Leaders of the Atlanta Baptist Association eventually relented, asking Oakhurst Baptist Church to either comply with updated bylaws discouraging LGBTQ inclusion, withdraw or be expelled from the association.
Oakhurst’s covenant rejects “any status in this fellowship in terms of church office, possessions, education, race, age, gender, sexual orientation, mental ability, physical ability or other distinctions.” The church is affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Churches USA, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.
Virginia-Highland Baptist Church joined the United Church of Christ in 2002 and now goes by the name Virginia-Highland Church.
First Baptist Church of Decatur’s identity with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship begins with proximity. The church is located across the street from CBF Global’s national headquarters in Decatur and regularly provides space for CBF leadership to hold meetings.
The CBF in 2018 dropped a policy barring “the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual” but in implementing the new policy limited the hiring for some leadership positions to those “who practice a traditional Christian sexual ethic of celibacy in singleness or faithfulness in marriage between a woman and a man.”