Va. church under fire for gay ordination
Unless it withdraws voluntarily, Ginter Park Baptist Church in Richmond could become the first church ever kicked out of the historic Baptist General Association of Virginia over the issue of homosexuality.
By Robert Dilday
A leadership committee has asked a Richmond congregation to withdraw its Baptist General Association of Virginia membership in the wake of the church’s Sept. 16 ordination of an openly gay man to the ministry.
If Ginter Park Baptist Church declines to withdraw by Dec. 31, the BGAV will no longer accept its financial contributions, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s executive committee said in a letter to the church. Since contributions to BGAV ministries are necessary for membership, that action would essentially end the church’s 96-year affiliation with the state association.
The executive committee reported its request Oct. 10 at the end of the Mission Board’s fall meeting at Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center near Lynchburg, Va.
“The letter states that the executive committee requests the church to withdraw by Dec. 31 with the understanding that if it does not, the BGAV will no longer receive funds from the church and messengers will not be seated at future annual meetings of the BGAV,” board chairman Mark Croston said. “The committee thought this was the best way to go. It keeps us in line with previous BGAV resolutions on homosexuality.”
Mission Board executive director John Upton said “four or five” conversations had been held both before and after the ordination between BGAV and Ginter Park leaders.
A motion by Mission Board member Bernard Henderson Jr. asking the executive committee to rescind its action failed by a vote of 8 to 40, but not before prompting wide-ranging discussion. Comments circled around Baptist principles such as the autonomy of local churches and the priesthood of the believer, on the one hand, and the need to take a clear stand against homosexuality and practical ramifications of failing to dismiss the church, on the other.
This would be the first time the 1,300-church association founded in 1823 has dismissed a church over homosexuality, but it has addressed the issue in the past. A 1993 resolution called homosexual behavior “sinful and unacceptable to Christians,” and that statement is typically included in the state association’s identity documents. A report from the BGAV’s Christian life committee, which drew the same conclusion, was “commended to the churches” in 1998.
The BGAV’s ties to both the University of Richmond and Averett University were ended over homosexuality, though Averett’s association was restored last year when the school clarified its stance in a way the BGAV regarded as compatible with its position.
Ginter Park Baptist Church was organized in 1916 on Richmond’s Northside and is also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Alliance of Baptists. Another affiliation — the Richmond Baptist Association — may be challenged at the RBA’s fall meeting Oct. 21.
In an e-mail Oct. 10, Vickie Hall, the church’s moderator, and deacon chair Raymond Cady declined to comment on the executive committee’s action until the church had received the committee’s letter.
Other Baptist state conventions, including North Carolina and Texas, have withdrawn fellowship from congregations welcoming and affirming of gays. The Southern Baptist Convention bans membership by churches that “act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” in its constitution.
The Alliance of Baptists, formed in 1987, includes members regardless of sexual orientation. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, founded in 1991, has a policy against knowingly hiring gay persons as staff or missionaries but leaves decisions like ordination and same-sex civil-union blessings up to the local church.
Lee Gallman Jr. retired as pastor of Ginter Park last year. A pastor-search description on the church website says the congregation is now “seeking a woman or man who is an excellent biblical preacher, who is a knowledgeable and caring visitor to the sick and infirm, who shows gifts as an effective administrator, and who welcomes and affirms all God’s children.”
© 2013 Associated Baptist Press, Inc.