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Atlanta association threatens ouster of gay-friendly church

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE From the Associated Baptist Press. ... August 31, 2001 - Volume: 01-69 Atlanta association threatens ouster of gay-friendly
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 4, 2001

      From the Associated Baptist Press.

      August 31, 2001 - Volume: 01-69
      Atlanta association threatens ouster of gay-friendly church
      By Bob Allen

      EDITOR'S NOTE: This story updates and replaces one sent Aug. 30. It
      includes comments from Atlanta Baptist Association's director of
      missions and a new lead.

      ATLANTA (ABP) -- The executive committee of Atlanta Baptist
      Association has asked Oakhurst Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., to
      reverse its welcoming-and-affirming stance toward gays or leave the

      Oakhurst is one of two churches in the association to survive earlier
      ouster votes for including known homosexuals in all areas of church

      The other church, Virginia-Highland Baptist Church in Atlanta, voted
      May 20 to withdraw from the association after deacons met with an
      associational leader, said Pastor Tim Shirley.

      Meeting Aug. 26, the executive committee voted 44-20 to ask Oakhurst
      to comply with the association's bylaws or withdraw voluntarily. That
      includes a recently added bylaw banning churches that "affirm,
      approve or endorse homosexual behavior." If the church doesn't leave
      the association by Oct. 31, according to the resolution, it will be

      Joel Harrison, director of missions, said the executive committee,
      which acts on behalf of the association between meetings, has the
      authority to dismiss the church without bringing it up to the whole

      The executive committee defeated a motion by Robert Walker, pastor of
      Peachtree Baptist Church, to postpone the action.

      Harrison said the committee extended the Oct. 31 deadline out of
      respect for the congregation's democratic governance and the fact
      that its pastor is on a sabbatical until Sept. 18. It is intended to
      "allow them time to prayerfully consider their decision," he said.

      A staff member at Oakhurst said the church desired to remain a part
      of the association but hasn't yet met to consider a response to the
      most recent vote.

      "We were saddened by the decision and hoped we would be able to work
      together," said Melanie Vaughan-West, interim minister at the church.

      Vaughan-West said it would now be up to the congregation to decide
      how to respond.

      The executive committee cited an example from the book of Acts where
      a strong disagreement arose between Paul and Barnabas, prompting the
      two missionaries to separate.

      Following that model, Harrison said, the committee felt it would be
      better for Oakhurst and the association "to go our separate ways" for
      the sake of ministry and missions.

      The executive committee vote reverses decisions at two associational
      meetings earlier this year. In January, the association voted 253-164
      in favor of a membership-committee recommendation to keep the two
      churches in membership. The action said the association did not
      "support or condone homosexual activity," but respected the autonomy
      of the local church.

      In March the association approved a new bylaw against full inclusion
      of gays, but a subsequent vote to expel the two churches didn't
      receive a required two-thirds vote.

      At that meeting, however, the association's membership team was
      assigned to determine how to deal with churches that are not
      compliant with the bylaws.

      Harrison said he met with representatives of both Oakhurst and
      Virginia-Highlands at the request of association leaders.

      He said he didn't ask the churches to leave but informed them they
      were out of compliance with bylaws and their membership could be
      challenged at any time. He also described the association's finances,
      which have suffered since the votes sustaining the two churches.

      Harrison said income from the association's churches is down $140,000
      this year. In other action at the Aug. 27 meeting, the executive
      committee voted to reduce the association's budget to $583,000.

      Shirley said at one time, his church might have considered leaving
      quietly but others in the association urged them to stay and fight.
      Those dynamics changed, however, with intense pressure over the

      After the January vote, the Southern Baptist North American Mission
      Board and Georgia Baptist Convention both announced plans to defund
      the Atlanta Association for its refusal to expel the gay-friendly

      Fifteen churches formed an alternative Atlanta-area Baptist
      association in protest of the vote sustaining the churches.

      Another 27 churches were said to be waiting on the sidelines to see
      how the association dealt with the bylaw issue before deciding
      whether to defect as well.

      With the prospect of losing additional churches and financial
      support, Shirley said even some of the association's more progressive
      leaders appeared to be losing their resolve. "It's easy to take a
      stand on Day One," he said. "How easy is it to take a stand on Day

      Harrison said he doesn't know if NAMB and the GBC will reverse
      pending decisions to defund missionaries in Atlanta Baptist
      Association at the end of this year. "We did not pass this by them
      ahead of time, because this is an associational issue," he said.
      Harrison said it wasn't discussed at the executive committee meeting.

      Both Oakhurst and Virginia-Highland admit gays and lesbians as
      members and include them in church leadership. That is contrary to
      stated positions of both the Georgia Baptist and Southern Baptist
      conventions that view homosexuality as sinful.

      Georgia Baptists voted to revoke the two churches' membership status
      in 1999. Both churches previously left the SBC, which in 1992 changed
      its constitution to exclude churches that sanction homosexuality. The
      congregations are affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
      and the Alliance of Baptists.

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