LGBTQ-friendly church agrees to get Southern Baptist boot

By PETER SMITH – Associated Press

When her teenage daughter came out as a lesbian several years ago, one of the first things Caroline Joyce did was ask Google, “Can you be gay and still be a Christian?”

The family attended a conservative Southern Baptist church in Greensboro, North Carolina, an area that considered same-sex activity a sin.

“We were taught one thing, but we knew our daughter loved Jesus,” Joyce said. “She was very open with us during her struggle to understand what was going on with her.”

And Caroline and her husband, Chuck, started their own fight.

Their daughter and a younger brother found a gay-friendly church, College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro. They “started coming with our blessing because we knew that if she continued to attend our church, she would be totally turned away from God,” Caroline Joyce said.

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The College Park Church found itself in the news last week when the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention voted to delete it from his lists due to his “open affirmation, endorsement, and endorsement of homosexual behavior”. This action came 23 years after the congregation itself voted to leave the SBC, but according to the executive committee, it had remained on its rolls until now.

But the very thing that has caused disapproval among Southern Baptists is what drew the Joyces themselves to College Park. The parents eventually followed their children’s path and joined the congregation. They even moved from the suburbs to the city of Greensboro to be closer to the College Park Church, its activities, and the friends they made there.

“It really makes a difference when you hear from the pulpit and hear in the hallway that God loves everyone,” Caroline Joyce said. She said their daughter eventually grew up to be a minister, just like his wife.

Rev. Michael Usey, the senior pastor, said Southern Baptist leaders correctly identified the church’s ethos.

“It’s good when people reject you because they clearly understand who you are,” he said. “The irony is that they exclude us so as not to exclude people.”

The vote of the executive committee did not take congregation leaders completely by surprise.

They had received registered letters from Southern Baptist officials over the past few months explaining that the church was still on their rolls and asking for more information, Usey said.

“At first they were kind of demanding that we clarify our position on homosexuality,” Usey said. The North Carolina Baptist State Convention, the state branch of Southern Baptists, sent similar requests, he said.

Usey said church leaders decided not to respond and let the SBC expel him if that was the decision.

“I don’t really want to get into that,” Usey said. “There are hungry people in Greensboro. That’s what God calls us to do, to do something for the children who are half a mile from our building and who are hungry.

Southern Baptist churches are self-governing, so the convention cannot tell them what to do or believe. But the convention considers churches affiliated – in “friendly cooperation” – if they share its beliefs and support its ministries.

The convention “had no record of a request from the church (College Park) to disaffiliate from the SBC,” said a statement Thursday from Linda Cooper, who chairs the SBC’s credentials committee. “This church has been brought to the attention of the committee. The committee asked the church about its desire to disaffiliate and received no response.

The Credentials Committee then recommended that the Executive Committee sever ties with the congregation, which it did.

The convention has said in recent years that a small number of congregations are not in friendly cooperation if they are LGBTQ-affirming. The denomination’s statement of belief, the Baptist Faith and Message, says Christians should oppose “all forms of sexual immorality, including…homosexuality.” The denomination has also severed ties with a small number of churches for failing to adequately address sexual abuse, and last week it also severed with a church in New Jersey for “alleged discriminatory behavior”.

The College Park Baptist Church voted in 1999 to leave the SBC, shortly after the annual convention meeting endorsed a doctrinal statement that a wife should ‘graciously submit’ to her husband’s authority .

The congregation’s website clearly states that College Park is an “LGBTQIA-Affirming Baptist Church” that “fully welcomes and affirms all people regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, class, sexual orientation , gender identity or any other human category”.

Usey said the church, with around 400 members, has a progressive heritage. Founded by Southern Baptists in 1906, it supported the civil rights sit-in at Greensboro Woolworth in 1960, began ordaining women in the 1980s and became openly LGBTQ about two decades ago, he said. -he declares.

While church members were surprised the SBC didn’t remove the church from its list years ago, the recent action “gives us the opportunity to say we’re not that kind Baptists,” he said.

Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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