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North Carolina Baptists Affirm Expulsion of Church over Gay Issue

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    Tuesday, November 11, 2003 North Carolina Baptists Affirm Expulsion of Church over Gay Issue By Tony Cartledge and Greg Warner, Associated Baptist Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 11, 2003
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      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
      said.

      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
      involved.

      Ayers said the church never called a news conference or sought
      publicity in any way, but courteously responded when people asked
      questions.

      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
      affirming homosexuality.

      After further discussion, the committee voted 12-6 to uphold the
      decision.

      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
      him."

      "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
      said.

      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.
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