By Bob Allen
The South Carolina Baptist Convention has written a letter asking First Baptist Church of Greenville to either recant its recent decision to include gays in all areas of church life or withdraw from the 2,000-church state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention.
A Baptist Courier story Aug. 20 headlined “First Baptist of Greenville moves to the left of the left” reported that Dwight Easler, chairman of the state convention’s executive board, asked members of the historic congregation to agree to a definition of marriage consistent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 or sever ties with the state body.
The state convention’s 2014 annual lists Greenville First as a church not affiliated with a local association. The congregation gave a total of $500 to the state convention budget.
First Baptist Church, whose founding pastor was elected the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, has been generating headlines almost daily since a Greenville News story Aug. 3 reported on its new policy of non-discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The statement, adopted in May after a “discernment” process spanning several months, specifies the non-discrimination stance extends to “membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership.”
South Carolina Baptist Convention President Tommy Kelly, quoted in the Baptist Courier story and repeated Aug. 20 in Baptist Press, said the policy “is in direct opposition to biblical precedent and standard.”
Richard Harris, a retired North American Mission Board vice president serving as interim executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said, “We cannot accept, approve or condone those kind of beliefs.”
First Baptist, historically significant not only as a charter SBC member but also for its role in the founding of Baptist institutions including Furman University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, withdrew from the SBC in 1999. Today its primary affiliation is with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of about 1,800 churches started 25 years ago by those disenfranchised in a political battle for control of the nation’s second-largest faith group now fondly remembered by the winners as the “conservative resurgence.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., predicted in a column Aug. 18 that shifting cultural attitudes toward homosexuality will put the CBF’s rejection of biblical inerrancy to the test.
“Just one generation ago, virtually all of the churches now in the CBF clearly affirmed the sinfulness of homosexuality,” Mohler said. “Now, many are moving to affirm same-sex marriage and to ordain gay ministers.”
Mohler said a CBF policy adopted in 2000 banning the hiring of openly gay staff or missionaries puts the movement “on a collision course with its own rising generation of leaders.”
“They are not going to let that policy stand,” Mohler predicted. “How can they, when they are enthusiastically joining the LGBT revolution?”
“That 2000 CBF policy, still in effect, dates back to when an older generation was leading the CBF and it reflects the fact that many of the churches that were ready to join the CBF in 1990 were not (yet) ready to endorse homosexuality,” Mohler said. “The CBF has no argument against homosexuality on biblical terms, so it is only a matter of time before it changes its policy.”
Mohler, who resisted the conservative resurgence while in seminary before switching sides prior to his election as Southern Seminary president in 1993, has predicted division in the CBF over homosexuality before.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see how this issue unfolds in the CBF,” Mohler said in 2012 after the outgoing CBF moderator issued a call to “have a conversation” about lifting the gay-hiring ban. Mohler forecast that a CBF conference on sexuality and covenant scheduled that year “is likely just to be a start, the public start, of a very divisive conversation.”