Local News

New Policy For N.C. Baptists Latest Battle Over Homosexuality

Posted November 14, 2006 10:02 a.m. EST

— The Baptist State Convention approved a policy Tuesday that would ban churches from the statewide group if they support the gay lifestyle. While more than two-thirds of the delegates voted for the measure, it was clear many North Carolina pastors are divided on the issue.

"Homosexuality is a sin and it's unacceptable behavior, and for the benefit of the church, its members and the benefit of society of a whole, we are taking this stance," said Norman Jameson with the Baptist State Convention.

However, Pastor Don Gordon of Yates Baptist Church in Durham said he is disappointed in the members' decision. He said the move is more exclusive than inclusive.

"I think a lot of people will see the Baptist church as homophobic," Gordon said.

The new policy means churches can't support, promote or bless homosexual behavior. If they do, they risk being banned from the Baptist State Convention.

The convention's directors said the group wouldn't actively police the policy or monitor churches to make sure they comply with the rule. However, if officials receive complaints about a church disobeying the directive, they would ask questions.

"The attempt would be to find out, 'Is this your position? Do you want to continue being a member of the Baptist State Convention?'" explained Milton Hollifield Jr., executive director of the Baptist State Convention.

Pastor Bill Sanderson of Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell proposed the policy. Sanderson said he did so because he believes the homosexual lifestyle has become commonplace in America's culture.

"God didn't create Adam and Steve. He created Adam and Eve," Sanderson said.

Sanderson and other pastors said their church doors are open to gays and lesbians. They can worship with their congregations, but they won't be allowed to become members. They said that if homosexuals wish to join, they must repent and change their lifestyle.

The measure impacts 4,080 churches in North Carolina and took effect immediately. But Baptists aren't the only denomination struggling with whether or not to take a position.

"The Episcopal Church dealt with it," said Duke divinity professor Dr. Curtis Freeman. "The Methodists have faced it on a local level here."

Freeman says religion is often reflective.

"Often times, our churches mirror the cultural divides," he said.

For Jeff Evans and Dave Parnell, it's not an abstract debate--it's personal. As a gay couple, they've been together for 18 years. They celebrated a holy union three years ago where they attend church at Pullen Baptist in Raleigh.

"It's just amazing to have a place and find a church where you can walk in and not just be tolerated, but be accepted," Parnell said.

"When it sounds so restrictive and divisive, you're missing out on having the opportunity of having an open and affirming place to worship freely," Evans said.

Their church was voted out of the convention when it started offering holy unions for gay couples.

"For the Baptists in North Carolina, this is the only moral issue that will actually determine if you are in friendly cooperation or not," Freeman said.

Freeman added that the strength of that stance for the Baptist organization will be put to the test on a local level at individual churches, where the personal perspective comes into play.

Several local congregations -- including Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary and Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh -- support the Alliance of Baptists. The convention previously said that national organization approves of homosexuality and that those churches are in jeopardy of removal.