Tuesday, November 11, 2003
North Carolina Baptists Affirm Expulsion of Church over Gay Issue
By Tony Cartledge and Greg Warner, Associated Baptist Press
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (ABP) -- North Carolina Baptists twice affirmed a
decision to oust McGill Baptist Church in Concord from the state
convention for baptizing two men presumed to be gay.
Messengers to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina
overwhelmingly voted down a motion Nov. 11 to reconsider the ouster.
A day earlier the convention's Executive Committee affirmed the
earlier decision by Executive Director-Treasurer Jim Royston to
remove the church. The committee's Nov. 10 vote followed a lengthy
discussion and an interview with church representatives.
McGill's baptism of the two men led to the church's ouster from the
Cabarrus Baptist Association last April.
Royston, after consultation with legal counsel and other officials,
notified the convention's business office not to accept further
contributions from McGill, citing a 1992 General Board policy that
prohibits accepting funds from "any church which knowingly takes, or
has taken, any official action which manifests public approval,
promotion or blessing of homosexuality."
McGill learned of the action in September when a search of the
convention's church locator service showed that McGill's name had
been removed, even though the convention had cashed a recent check
from the church. When notified of the discrepancy, Royston said the
business office had mistakenly processed the check, and ordered that
the money be returned to the church.
In its October session, the Executive Committee tabled a motion to
reverse Royston's decision until church officials had an opportunity
to present their case at the next meeting.
When questioned by members of the Executive Committee, pastor Steve
Ayers of McGill Baptist said he had no problem with the policy
itself, but insisted that the church should not be held in violation
of the policy because it has not taken "any official action which
manifests public approval, promotion or blessing of homosexuality."
"We baptized two people who accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior," he
Some members asked if Ayers knew the men were practicing homosexuals
before baptizing them. Ayers replied that, though the men shared a
house and were widely presumed to be gay, he had no knowledge of what
they practiced, and did not ask. Nor does the church ask other new
believers for details about their lifestyles, Ayers said.
"If someone looks me in the eye and says that he has received Jesus
into his life and has turned his life toward Christ, I will baptize
them," Ayers said.
Fletcher Hartsell, a McGill member who also serves as a state
senator, said the church considered itself a missions organization
trying to reach a wider community. "We have an obligation to reach
people where they are and lead them to Christ," he said. Those who
receive Christ become "a new creation," he said -- not perfect, but
new and growing.
Ayers said he did not expect people to become perfect before they
could be baptized into the church fellowship. "What better place to
grow than in church?" he asked.
When questioned about the publicity surrounding the issue, Ayers said
the church never sought publicity, and that the matter came into the
public eye only after a neighboring pastor reported the issue to
officials of the Cabarrus Association, leading the association to get
Ayers said the church never called a news conference or sought
publicity in any way, but courteously responded when people asked
After the McGill representatives were dismissed, the committee
discussed the matter further, with some insisting that baptism alone
is a public act, and that baptizing someone presumed to be gay
without insisting on a prior change in lifestyle meets the policy of
After further discussion, the committee voted 12-6 to uphold the
Afterward, Ayers said "We think it is a sad day in Baptist life that
we would somehow limit God's grace and love to certain people, and to
say we can no longer trust people at their word when they tell us
they have experienced the risen Lord in their life and turned toward
"Our congregation is on a journey of faith," he said, "unfortunately
no longer with the Baptist State Convention."
On the second day of the state convention, Gene Scarborough, pastor
of North Rocky Mount Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, made a motion to
ask the Executive Committee to reexamine its position on the policy
used to expel McGill. By refusing to accept the church's
contributions -- which is the convention's method of recognizing
member churches -- the convention is "exercising authority over
another Baptist body," Scarborough said.
"I think churches have a right to support our efforts, and we don't
have a right to refuse if they want to support our convention," he
Other messengers argued against any change.
"At a time when other religious bodies are speaking with an
unbiblical voice [on the gay issue], we need to speak with a certain
voice on this," said Steve Hardy of Winston-Salem, referring to the
recent installation of gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson.
The motion to reconsider was defeated on a show-of-hands vote.