By Bob Allen
The only predominantly African-American Southern Baptist church in a rural county in Tennessee risks losing its house of worship for calling a woman as pastor.
News Channel 5 in Nashville reported Oct. 15 that Greater Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., received a letter from the Lawrence County Association of Baptists informing the congregation’s 40 members they were removed from membership by a vote of 73-4 at the association’s annual meeting Oct. 12.
The association’s executive director, Mike Kemper, did not respond immediately to a request by Baptist News Global for a copy of the letter dated Oct. 14, but the television station said it mentioned a “reversion clause” in the church’s deed stipulating that if the congregation ever ceased to be a cooperating church, the property would revert back to the Lawrence County Association of Baptists.
“The members of the church knew what the documents said,” Kemper told News Channel 5’s Rebecca Schleicher, “and when they made their decision they knew that.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s online church search database lists Greater Tabernacle as an affiliated church founded in 1989 with contact information for Jeffery Perkins, the congregation’s former pastor who died in January at age 52.
In June the church voted to extend a ministerial call to Shonda Reynolds-Christian, a married mother of two with a background in social work called to preach the gospel in January 1997.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics, revised its official statement of faith in 2000 to declare that “while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
Reynolds-Christian told News Channel 5 she views the prohibition as “more how man feels and not about God.”
“Everybody may have their differences in how they worship and what time they worship and things like that, but the center of attention should be Jesus and him crucified, period,” she said.
The association’s letter reportedly said that Greater Tabernacle Baptist Church might regain membership if they get rid of their pastor and that whether or not they can keep their property would be up to the other members of the association.
According to the association’s August newsletter, Greater Tabernacle contributed no money to the association’s work during the first seven months of the current year.