Southern Baptists expel two churches for sex abuse and two for affirming homosexuality
The Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee expelled four churches — two for sexual abuse violations and two for affirming LGBTQ people— during a Tuesday meeting in Nashville.
The 80-plus member body, which acts on behalf of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention when it is not in session, deemed these churches to no longer be in friendly cooperation with the conservative evangelical denomination for the following reasons:
- Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee, has been removed from the convention. The executive committee says the church employs a pastor convicted of statutory rape.
- West Side Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, has been removed from the convention. The executive committee says the church employs a registered sex offender as a pastor.
- St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has been removed from the convention. The executive committee says the church affirms homosexual behavior.
- Towne View Baptist Church in Kennesaw, Georgia, has been removed from the convention. The executive committee says the church affirms homosexual behavior.
The churches are the latest to be removed from the largest Protestant denomination in America through its new credentials committee process. While the committee can consider an array of compatibility issues, it was created in 2019 as an answer to the Southern Baptist sexual abuse crisis exposed in news reports.
The committee is not an investigative panel but can make inquiries as to whether a congregation is adhering to Southern Baptist beliefs. Then the credentials committee makes a recommendation regarding disfellowship, but the executive committee has the final say as to whether a church stays or goes. The decisions can be appealed.
The first church to be expelled under the new credentials committee process was Ranchland Heights Baptist Church in Midland, Texas. The executive committee ousted the church about a year ago for employing a pastor who is a registered sex offender.
Before the creation of the credentials committee, churches could still be kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention. In 2018, the executive committee removed Raleigh White Baptist Church in Georgia over charges of racial discrimination. Churches have also been removed for other LGBTQ-related issues.
Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler praised the executive committee's Tuesday actions in Twitter posts. Mohler, who is the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, called the expulsion of the churches as "necessary and proper."
Antioch Baptist Church did not immediately respond to The Tennessean's requests for comment.
A person who answered a call placed to West Side Baptist church declined to comment.
St. Matthews Baptist Church
Michael Payne, chairperson of the St. Matthews Baptist Church Administrative Council, told the Courier Journal the Southern Baptist Convention cited its membership policies as the reason for the action.
"The Convention's decision was apparently based on our congregation's November 2019 reaffirmation of SMBC's long-standing policy that a belief in Jesus as personal Savior is the sole criterion for membership in our Church," Payne said in a statement.
"... Nothing in the Southern Baptist Convention's decision changes St. Matthews Baptist Church's deep commitment to carrying out what God calls us to do in our worship and spiritual growth, as well as in ministries to those in need and fellowship within our Church family."
The Southern Baptist Convention is not the only entity to severe its relationship with St. Matthews Baptist Church over its support of LGBTQ people. The Kentucky Baptist Convention did the something similar in 2018, the Courier Journal reported.
The Kentucky Baptist Convention cut ties with St. Matthews and about a dozen other churches also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which had lifted its total ban on hiring staff who identified as LGBTQ earlier that year.
Towne View Baptist Church
The Rev. Jim Conrad, pastor of Towne View Baptist Church, expected Tuesday's outcome.
"We are grateful for over three decades of cooperative mission and ministry with the Southern Baptist Convention and will pray God's best for its churches in the days ahead. However, we will continue to share the Good News of God's redemptive love in and through Jesus with everyone and welcome anyone who profess faith in Christ into our community of faith, hope and love," Conrad said Tuesday in a message to The Tennessean.
The church located in the Atlanta suburbs first welcomed a gay couple to join the congregation as members in 2019. The Baptist Faith & Message, the beliefs uniting the network of churches, states that homosexuality is immoral and marriage is between one man and one woman.
"We knew that this wouldn't pass unnoticed," Conrad said in a Friday interview with The Tennessean.
But he could never imagine telling a couple — even a gay one — that their family was not welcome at Towne View. So when two men asked Conrad that question in 2019, he invited them to worship, and eventually they became members. Not everyone agreed with the decision. About 30% of the congregation left over it, he said.
Conrad heard from the credentials committee a little over a year ago about the possibility of disfellowship. They reached back out this month, alerting Towne View of the potential outcome of the executive committee meeting.
"It's given us a chance to tell our story," Conrad said. "We're excited about our story. We feel like we've followed God's leadership and we endured a lot of pain, people leaving, but those that have remained are committed that there is a place for this kind of church in our community and the response has been very overwhelming."
Since its inception nearly 32 years ago, Towne View has been a Southern Baptist church, Conrad said. Local, state and national Southern Baptist associations played a part in launching the church, he said. But that happened before theological conservatives wrestled control of the Southern Baptist Convention from moderates.
"As the convention moved further to the right, our church didn't," Conrad said. "We know we've been on the margins of SBC life."
He noted that Towne View also permits female deacons, has ordained a female minister and had women preach on a couple of occasions. Southern Baptist doctrine teaches that women can serve in the church, but the office of pastor is reserved for men only.
Towne View has remained Southern Baptist because of its historical ties to the convention as well as the connections its church members have to Southern Baptist missionaries and ministry posts, he said.
"We may well be the last Southern Baptist church excluded for welcoming LGBTQ people," Conrad said. "Most of those other churches that have taken this position have already left."
That first gay couple has left Towne View, too, moving back to Indiana to be closer to family. But people who identify as LGBTQ still worship at the church, Conrad said.
Emma Austin of the Courier Journal contributed to this report.
Reach Holly Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-259-8241 and on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.