A committee that oversees more than 50,000 Southern Baptist churches voted to oust congregations in Kentucky and Georgia this week, over policies deemed to be too inclusive of the LGBTQ community.
Southern Baptist Convention leaders expelled a Louisville church and Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Towne View’s pastor, the Rev. Jim Conrad, told WABE’s “All Things Considered” host Jim Burress that he now plans to join with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which lets churches set their own inclusive policies. Conrad said he would not appeal the executive committee’s decision.
Conrad has led Towne View since the mid-1990s, and the church started admitting LGBTQ worshippers as members in October 2019.
“In the summer and fall of 2019, we went through a process as a congregation, to clarify that we would accept any believer who professed faith in Christ, who had been baptized as members of our church, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Conrad said.
“We knew when we adopted that statement, and then subsequently welcomed gay individuals as members, that we were stepping outside the bounds that the amended Baptist faith and message laid out for what’s deemed to be a cooperating Southern Baptist Church.”
Conrad said that the congregation has been on the margins of what’s considered acceptable to the executive committee for a few years.
“As the convention over the last 30-plus years has moved to increasingly conservative positions on a variety of issues, that are beyond where most of our folks are comfortable, it will cost us our identity as a Southern Baptist church,” Conrad said.
“But in recent years, that identity has been problematic at times, in terms of trying to reach the community.”
He said he doesn’t believe the convention will ever change its stance on LGBTQ members.
“The statistics for teen and adolescent suicide among LGBTQ youth are really troubling,” Conrad said, adding he believes the message of inclusivity from Southern Baptists plays a huge role in that.
“One of the really amazing things about our church being in the news the last couple of weeks is the number of phone calls, and emails, and other messages that we have received, many of them expressing gratitude for our support,” Conrad said.
Towne View Associate Pastor Jeremy Hall also told WABE he’s thrilled with the messages of support and love the church has been receiving.
“The phone is ringing off the hook, Facebook is going crazy, and I’ve had to mute the email notifications on my phone,” Hall told WABE, adding many of these emails contain stories of Christians who have been rejected, outed and wounded by the churches they grew up in.
“I am honored and humbled to read them. People are finding hope in our story, and we are finding hope in theirs,” Hall said.
“The truth of the matter is, that the American church’s answer to LGBTQ Christians has been a loud and emphatic ‘NO’ for so long that it requires that we answer publicly and clearly with a loving ‘YES.’ This is part of our repentance.”
Hall said the congregation hasn’t heard from the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee that voted them out. But, he feels that Towne View’s story has been treated fairly, and is thrilled with the media attention.
The SBEC did not respond to WABE’s request for comment.