Church declines to leave BGAV

Ginter Park Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., opted to be kicked out of the Baptist General Association of Virginia for ordaining a gay man to the ministry rather than to resign.

By Bob Allen

A Virginia Baptist church under fire for ordaining an openly gay man to the ministry has turned down an offer to withdraw voluntarily from the Baptist General Association of Virginia, setting the stage for its dismissal from the statewide body effective Dec. 31.

The BGAV executive committee announced in October that if Ginter Park Baptist Church in Richmond did not withdraw from membership by Dec. 31, the association would no longer accept the church’s financial contributions. Because membership in the BGAV is tied to contributions, the effect will be the same – ending the church’s 96-year affiliation with the state association.

The dispute centers on Ginter Park’s Sept. 16 ordination of Brandon Scott McGuire, an openly gay man who feels called to minister to persons with disabilities and special needs and their families.

BGAV leaders determined the action to be at odds with public statements opposing homosexuality adopted by the association in years past. That prompted a series of meetings with church leaders, and ultimately to a formal request that Ginter Park resign its membership.

Ginter Park responded with a statement, adopted at a church business meeting Dec. 12 and released publicly Dec. 17, that acknowledged the withdrawal request but stating the church has “no desire to sever ourselves from Virginia Baptists, we respectfully decline to do so.”

“We regretfully acknowledge the decision of the executive committee and the BGAV,” the statement said. “We are genuinely saddened by this loss of fellowship and pray that, in some future day, these issues will no longer divide us.”

The executive committee decision, upheld by the BGAV in its annual meeting Nov. 13, prompted at least one church to withdraw from the fold. Grace Baptist Church in Richmond voted Oct. 24 to discontinue financial support and participation in activities of the BGAV in response to the expulsion of Ginter Park.

A letter from church leaders termed the action an “abject violation” of language in the BGAV constitution about “not infringing the rights of individuals and churches” and giving “full recognition of the autonomy of the local churches.”

Also, a member of the BGAV mission board resigned his position and a post on a resolutions committee. Bernard Henderson, who serves as deacon chair at Grace Baptist, said he took the action to protest the dismissal of Ginter Park.

Ginter Park, without a pastor throughout the episode, voted Dec. 2 to extend a call to Mandy England Cole, ending a nearly yearlong pastor search. A graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Cole was ordained and called as associate pastor by Sardis Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., in 2007.

While in seminary Cole served as an intern at Grace Baptist Church in Richmond under the supervision of Pastor Elizabeth Pugh Mills. She has served as a member and vice chair of the Alliance of Baptist’s board of directors and was a worship leader at the 2010 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Charlotte, N.C.

Married and the mother of three, Cole is scheduled to preach her first sermon at Ginter Park Jan. 27.

In a Dec. 17 e-mail, BGAV Executive Director John Upton thanked Ginter Park for a “cordial response” to the withdrawal request and congratulated church members “in the calling of their new pastor.”

Ginter Park is believed to be the only church ever to be expelled from membership in the Baptist General Association of Virginia. Founded in 1823, the BGAV is the more moderate of two rival statewide groups affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC automatically excludes churches that affirm homosexuality in its constitution.

The 1,400-church BGAV also partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, founded in 1991. The CBF does not knowingly hire gay people or appoint them as missionaries, but views matters like ordination or gay marriage as issues to be decided by the local church.

In addition to the BGAV and CBF, Ginter Park lists affiliations including the Alliance of Baptists. The Alliance, an older and smaller SBC breakaway group than the CBF, affirms individuals regardless of sexual orientation.

Ginter Park started out in 1916 affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. The church separated from the SBC during the inerrancy controversy at the end of the 20th century but still allows individual members to contribute to SBC missions offerings if they choose.

-- With reporting by Robert Dilday of the Religious Herald.