Baptist group keeps gay-friendly church

By a close margin, the Richmond Baptist Association voted to retain the membership of a church which ordained a gay man to the ministry last fall.

By Robert Dilday

A Baptist church in Virginia kicked out of its state organization for ordaining a gay man to the ministry last fall retained membership in its local association March 19.

Richmond Baptist Association voted 176-158 to “embrace Ginter Park Baptist Church as a sister church,” while acknowledging that “many RBA congregations would not choose to ordain a person who is homosexual.”

Last September the 98-year-old congregation ordained Brandon Scott McGuire, a member of the church who says he feels called to minister to persons with disabilities and special needs and to their families.

The Virginia Baptist Mission Board executive committee responded by withdrawing fellowship from the church. The Baptist General Association of Virginia, which supports both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Southern Baptist Convention, upheld the committee’s action in November by a vote of 426-164.

The BGAV action didn’t affect Ginter Park’s affiliation with the 70-church Richmond Baptist Association, which cooperates with the statewide body but is autonomous and self-governing. A committee appointed to study the matter returned a recommendation to keep the church, citing “historic Baptist principles of soul competency, congregational autonomy and voluntary cooperation.”

craig sherouseCommittee members were not unanimous in support of the recommendation. One member -- Craig Sherouse, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Richmond -- resigned. Sherouse was among nearly 30 church representatives who spoke for and against the recommendation during more than an hour of discussion at the called meeting.

Sherouse maintained that Ginter Park’s action “crossed the membership boundary of maintaining New Testament principles.” He warned that if the recommendation passed “enough churches will leave to handicap us” and that “other associations are evaluating whether they will continue to cooperate with us.”

jim somervilleJim Somerville, pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, said homosexuality isn’t the main issue. “We came to talk about a church which has done something most of our churches wouldn’t do and whether it can be a part of our fellowship,” he said.

Somerville said his own congregation recently ordained a young woman who grew up in the church.

“Some would tell us that was a clear violation of Scripture and they wouldn’t do it,” Somerville said. “That’s their prerogative, and we wouldn’t want to tell them who they can and can’t ordain.… But we did it and I’m proud. The question is, can the RBA still work with us?”

mandy england coleMandy England Cole, pastor of Ginter Park for less than two months, said for her the “key issue is trust.”

“Why would we want to continue to be in partnership with those who call us sinners and in need of repentance?” she asked. “Why would we want to be in fellowship with those who stand in judgment? Why would we want to partner with those who believe fundamentally different things theologically than we do? Because we believe that God is at work in all of us, not merely in some of us.”

“Somehow in the mystery of all that is, we in our differences can bind together in some form of fellowship and association and do more than we can do alone, whether we agree or disagree,” she said. “We want to be part of the good work of the RBA and we want to continue in faithfulness.”

-- A longer version of this story appears in the Religious Herald.