Baptist churches in North Carolina will have to deny membership to gays or face expulsion from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Messengers to the convention's annual meeting voted Nov. 14 to add language to its governing documents that will exclude from convention membership any church thought to affirm homosexual behavior.
It is the most rigid anti-gay policy of any statewide organization affiliated with the national Southern Baptist Convention and is similar to an SBC policy approved more than a decade ago. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, with more than 4,000 churches and about 1.2 million members, is the second-largest state body that relates to the SBC.
After a show-of-ballots vote, leaders of the N.C. convention determined the amendment passed by more than the required two-thirds margin—as it did last year during the amendment's first reading.
The revision adds a section to the articles of incorporation that says, “Among churches not in friendly cooperation with the Convention are churches which knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior. The Board of Directors shall apply this provision. A church has the right to appeal any adverse action taken by the Board of Directors.”
Supporters of the amendment said North Carolina Baptists need to take a stand against homosexuality. Opponents said the convention already had a policy in place that has removed churches that affirm homosexuality.
Convention president Stan Welch, a conservative leader, later told reporters the previous policy enforced by the Board of Directors “did not have teeth.” Passage of the amendment gives the convention clarity on the issue, he said.
During discussion on the convention floor, Jeff Dawkins, pastor of Jewel Baptist Church in High Point, said he has dealt with homosexuality in a “close and personal way.” He said when a person repented of the homosexual lifestyle, the church welcomed him. But when the person returned to that lifestyle, the church removed him from membership.
“We can be against the sin and love the sinner,” he said.
Nathan Parrish, pastor of Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, said it is ironic that the convention was moving to exclude some churches while the theme of the meeting is “Cast a wider net.”
“Having the right to exclude doesn't make the practice of excluding the right thing to do,” he said.
Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte, was chair of a committee that recommended the change. He said nothing would please him more than if the motion were unnecessary. But, he said, there is a national agenda promoting homosexuality. “We truly believe this convention must stand with courage,” he said.
Don Gordon, pastor of Yates Baptist Church in Durham, said, “You can still believe homosexuality is sinful behavior and oppose this amendment.” The change turns the convention into a “watchdog” over a single issue, Gordon said.
Dan Heimbach, an ethics professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who also served on the committee that recommended the change, said that although there are many sins, homosexuality is the one challenging the church.
Ed Beddingfield, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, said the motion sends a message that some people aren't welcome in N.C. Baptist churches. The motion also makes some churches guilty by association, he said.
The action will immediately affect about 16 North Carolina congregations—whether or not they welcome homosexuals—because they are affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, a progressive national group that is officially gay-friendly.
President Welch said the convention will not assign people to police church practices. If word comes to the convention about possible violations, convention officials will follow-up on the issue, he said.
Convention executive director Milton Hollifield agreed: “It's not that we're looking for those situations,” he said. “We want to be as redemptive as possible.”
A church with an openly homosexual member must choose whether it wants to keep that person as a church member or whether it wants to continue to be a member of the convention, Hollifield said. “But that's not something we're going seek out.”