Church Stance on Gays Stirs Southern Baptists : Sexual orientation: The denomination considers a new method to remove congregations after the licensing of a homosexual for the ministry in Chapel Hill.
A Southern Baptist congregation in Chapel Hill, N.C., has become the second church to defy leaders of the 15-million-member denomination by taking a permissive stance on homosexuality.
As a result of the controversy, officials of the denomination are considering a new method to remove congregations. If approved at the convention’s annual meeting in Indianapolis on June 9-11, it would be the first time in the convention’s 147-year history that churches could be ousted for a reason other than lack of financial support.
After four hours of heated debate, members of the Chapel Hill congregation, the Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church, voted Sunday to license a homosexual man for ministry, with 57% favoring the move.
The man is John Blevins, a 24-year-old divinity student at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Licensing is a step short of full ordination, but it means that the church recognizes his gifts for the ministry and will allow him to preach.
“As a community of Christians, we recognize that we are all sinners,” the congregation said in a statement approved at the meeting. “We welcome as members of this church all who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, regardless of sexual orientation.”
The Rev. Linda Jordan, pastor of Binkley Memorial, said the congregation “has been committed in its history to inclusiveness, and so this is not as foreign as it may look.”
When the congregation’s deacons voted in February to approve Blevins for licensure, they listed several reasons for and against taking such a step.
Among reasons against approving a homosexual clergy candidate, the deacons said: “The Scriptures speak clearly to the point that homosexual behavior is sinful,” and that “while we celebrate the inclusive nature of our congregation, being inclusive does not require approval of sinful behavior.”
Among the reasons for approving, the deacons said that “Christian faith compels us to examine church tradition in the light of new evidence,” and that under certain circumstances, “homosexuality can be life-affirming and harms neither individuals nor the community.”
The other congregation to publicly declare its tolerance of homosexuals is Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, where members in late February decided to allow their pastor to bless the union of two homosexual men. Two-thirds of the voting members favored the decision.
The votes of the two North Carolina congregations came despite a recommendation by the denomination’s leaders that congregations affirming the practice of homosexuality be removed. The recommendation, which calls for a change in the denomination’s constitution and bylaws, came in mid-February from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee.
According to Baptist tradition, congregations are considered autonomous and are linked together in the national body primarily for mutual program support. But local or state Southern Baptist associations have removed congregations for doctrinal reasons.
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