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N.C. Baptists Poised To Approve Strict Policy On Homosexuality

Posted November 13, 2006

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— Delegates gathering this week at the Baptist State Convention are expected to approve a policy that would prohibit membership for churches or affiliate groups that endorse homosexuality.

The policy, proposed by the convention's board of directors earlier this year, would forbid churches from ordaining gay clergy, making public statements supporting homosexuality or accepting openly gay churchgoers as members.

The proposal, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, includes steps for triggering an investigation.

"We seem to agree on this issue," said the Rev. Stan Welch, president of the 1.2-million-member group, whose 4,080 churches fund the convention's $38 million mission-focused budget. "It's an overwhelming majority time after time. We view it as a biblical precedence of right and wrong."

The measure, to be voted on during the convention's three-day meeting that started Monday, requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

Opponents of the policy aren't optimistic.

"I don't think we're going to get heard. I don't bear any illusions about winning," said the Rev. Robert Ferguson of Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, one of 40 pastors who signed a letter opposing the change. "But if we're going to start asking everybody about everything going on in their lives ... where are we going to stop? What about divorce? Are we going to narrow it down so only the 'righteous' can come?"

A convention official disputed that concern.

"There is no team, staff person, no position, no anything at the Baptist State Convention whose responsibility is to monitor church activity as it relates to homosexuality," said convention spokesman Norman Jameson. "None. Nada."

Under the policy, two people would have to make a complaint without anonymity and it must regard a church "with which they are familiar."

Jameson said the difference with homosexuality is that unlike many other issues opposed by the church, this one has become a cultural -- and legal -- touchstone.

"While we fully recognize that other sins assail our members, there is no other sin that has a national advocacy group where people march and try to change laws and cultural mores to gain approval for itself," Jameson said. "This particular sin is creeping its way into acceptability by virtue of this group's advocacy, and it is time for us to take a stand."

St. John's Baptist Church in Charlotte has taken no formal stance on homosexuality, but it does support the Alliance of Baptists, which opposes the policy, and expects to be expelled.

Richard Kremer, pastor of the church, said Tuesday's vote is inevitable because of the more conservative path the state convention has taken for the past 10 years. He believes it will lead to a major realignment of Baptist churches.

"There is sadness, but this is not a great surprise to any of us," Kremer said. "This is one small step in a spectrum of events. You can be sure they'll narrow the tent along the way."

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