Recently, First Baptist Greenville and Augusta Heights Baptist Church in Greenville, SC have been asked by the SC Baptist Association to back down from statements and actions in support of people in the LGBT community or face disassociation from the SC Baptist Convention:
The South Carolina Baptist Convention has called on First Baptist Greenville to recant its LGBT nondiscrimination policy or face the possibility of being disassociated from the group of more than 2,000 churches.
Greenville Baptist Association messengers voted unanimously Oct. 22 to dismiss Augusta Heights Baptist Church after the church’s pastor officiated at a same-sex marriage.
The marriage service was not held at the church, but Augusta Heights’ pastor Greg Dover performed the Oct. 10 ceremony with the approval of his deacons, said Al Phillips, director of missions for Greenville Association.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in SC and grew accustomed to language associated with these debates including, “Well, these churches didn’t really want to be a part of the SC Baptist Convention, anyways. They don’t agree theologically with the Southern Baptist Convention, so it’s not really that big of a deal for them to be disassociated or to be kicked out.”
It’s an easy bandaid of justification for the people who are deciding the fate of these churches, and maybe it’s partially correct; however, the decision to kick out or disassociate from a church is much bigger than theological issues. When a church is no longer associated with the SC Baptist Convention, the staff and ministers at the churches who have been kicked out often face the pragmatic issues of having to find new health insurance as well as fight for accrued retirement. This isn’t merely a theological debate or decision. This is a decision that impacts ministers, staff, minister’s families, and staff families. But you won’t hear about these other ramifications because the debate and the decision get boiled down to theological differences rather than care or concern for other baptist ministers and their families.
When I answered a call to pastor and preach, there was an individual disassociation from my home church, which meant scrambling to find scholarships and make connections to churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in order to help alleviate some of the costs of a three-year commitment to seminary. This is a journey that started as soon as I began seminary over four years ago, and one that still proves difficult as I’ve had to figure out how to procure my own health insurance, dental insurance, and retirement plan. Although I was able to secure a seminarian’s health insurance plan while I was in school as soon as I tried to transfer my account from a student to a minister’s account, my plan was terminated because the church that called me wasn’t the right kind of baptist church. Since I was serving a small church as a bi-vocational minister, there wasn’t a health insurance plan available through the church either.
Our church is a church plant, so its history doesn’t include association with Southern Baptists at all, but for those churches whose history and benefits system for their ministers and staff and their ministers’ and staff’s families are tied to their association with the Southern Baptist Convention, being kicked out or disassociated will send them on the same journey of having to start anew in how they provide for their ministers and staff.
And trust me, it’s not an easy journey.
As my male colleagues embark on this journey that their female counterparts can’t help but be a part of when they answer a call to minister, I hope it will make our commitment to welcome and affirm all, yes even those who ostracize and exclude, even stronger.
Because we know that it’s not just theological debate.
It’s a way of living in relation with one another and caring for each other whether we agree theologically or not.