WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (ABP) — North Carolina Baptists twice affirmed a decision to oust McGill Baptist Church in Concord from the state convention for baptizing two men presumed to be gay.
Messengers to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina overwhelmingly voted down a motion Nov. 11 to reconsider the ouster. A day earlier the convention's Executive Committee affirmed the earlier decision by Executive Director-Treasurer Jim Royston to remove the church. The committee's Nov. 10 vote followed a lengthy discussion and an interview with church representatives.
McGill's baptism of the two men led to the church's ouster from the Cabarrus Baptist Association last April.
Royston, after consultation with legal counsel and other officials, notified the convention's business office not to accept further contributions from McGill, citing a 1992 General Board policy that prohibits accepting funds from “any church which knowingly takes, or has taken, any official action which manifests public approval, promotion or blessing of homosexuality.”
McGill learned of the action in September when a search of the convention's church locator service showed that McGill's name had been removed, even though the convention had cashed a recent check from the church. When notified of the discrepancy, Royston said the business office had mistakenly processed the check, and ordered that the money be returned to the church.
In its October session, the Executive Committee tabled a motion to reverse Royston's decision until church officials had an opportunity to present their case at the next meeting.
When questioned by members of the Executive Committee, pastor Steve Ayers of McGill Baptist said he had no problem with the policy itself, but insisted that the church should not be held in violation of the policy because it has not taken “any official action which manifests public approval, promotion or blessing of homosexuality.”
“We baptized two people who accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior,” he said.
Some members asked if Ayers knew the men were practicing homosexuals before baptizing them. Ayers replied that, though the men shared a house and were widely presumed to be gay, he had no knowledge of what they practiced, and did not ask. Nor does the church ask other new believers for details about their lifestyles, Ayers said.
“If someone looks me in the eye and says that he has received Jesus into his life and has turned his life toward Christ, I will baptize them,” Ayers said.
Fletcher Hartsell, a McGill member who also serves as a state senator, said the church considered itself a missions organization trying to reach a wider community. “We have an obligation to reach people where they are and lead them to Christ,” he said. Those who receive Christ become “a new creation,” he said — not perfect, but new and growing.
Ayers said he did not expect people to become perfect before they could be baptized into the church fellowship. “What better place to grow than in church?” he asked.
When questioned about the publicity surrounding the issue, Ayers said the church never sought publicity, and that the matter came into the public eye only after a neighboring pastor reported the issue to officials of the Cabarrus Association, leading the association to get involved.
Ayers said the church never called a news conference or sought publicity in any way, but courteously responded when people asked questions.
After the McGill representatives were dismissed, the committee discussed the matter further, with some insisting that baptism alone is a public act, and that baptizing someone presumed to be gay without insisting on a prior change in lifestyle meets the policy of affirming homosexuality.
After further discussion, the committee voted 12-6 to uphold the decision.
Afterward, Ayers said “We think it is a sad day in Baptist life that we would somehow limit God's grace and love to certain people, and to say we can no longer trust people at their word when they tell us they have experienced the risen Lord in their life and turned toward him.”
“Our congregation is on a journey of faith,” he said, “unfortunately no longer with the Baptist State Convention.”
On the second day of the state convention, Gene Scarborough, pastor of North Rocky Mount Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, made a motion to ask the Executive Committee to reexamine its position on the policy used to expel McGill. By refusing to accept the church's contributions — which is the convention's method of recognizing member churches — the convention is “exercising authority over another Baptist body,” Scarborough said.
“I think churches have a right to support our efforts, and we don't have a right to refuse if they want to support our convention,” he said.
Other messengers argued against any change.
“At a time when other religious bodies are speaking with an unbiblical voice [on the gay issue], we need to speak with a certain voice on this,” said Steve Hardy of Winston-Salem, referring to the recent installation of gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson.
The motion to reconsider was defeated on a show-of-hands vote.