Nov 14, 2006

Greensboro, NC

Baptist delegates approve anti-gay policy

Associated Press Writer

GREENSBORO (AP) — The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina voted Tuesday to cut ties with congregations that affirm or approve of homosexuality, formally adopting a rigid anti-gay policy that allows the group to investigate whether member churches are gay friendly.

The convention, which with more than 4,000 member churches and 1.2 million members is the second-largest association of Baptist churches in the nation, said it was one of the most rigid anti-gay policies among the nation's Christian churches.

"It's not something that we wanted to do, but homosexuality is the only sin that has its own advocacy group," said convention spokesman Norman Jameson said. "Those advocacy groups are pushing us into this stance. Other denominations that waffle and waver on the issue year after year are getting torn apart."

The vote changes the convention's long-standing laws, which previously only required its members to support the convention through cooperation and financial contributions. Now any churches that "knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior" will be barred from membership.

"This action does not mean that you should avoid ministry to the homosexual community," said convention executive director Milton Hollifield Jr. "Even though we believe that homosexuality is wrong, we still love and engage those in this lifestyle."

The convention's board of directors adopted a similar anti-gay policy in 1992, but its members had never voted to include the policy in its written articles of incorporation. And that past rule, unlike the one approved Tuesday, didn't give the convention the authority to investigate gay-friendly churches.

Now, should two church members request an inquiry, the convention has the formal authority to act.

"It did not have teeth in it like it needed to have," said convention president Stan Welch. "There was a general policy in place, and we needed something to say, 'We're going to act upon this and we're going to follow through with it.'"

Sixteen churches in North Carolina will come under immediate scrutiny under the policy, Jameson said. Those churches are associated with the Alliance of Baptists, a Washington D.C.-based group that welcomes gays as equal members. They contribute just $185,000 to the Convention's $36 million budget, Jameson said.

The Alliance of Baptists said the new policy is stronger than a similar policy adopted by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Southern Baptist Convention — the nation's largest Protestant organization. The Southern Baptists changed their constitution in 1993 to say that "churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior" are not eligible for membership.

"But the Southern Baptist Convention didn't go around trying to meddle with and investigate churches," said Jeanette Holt, associate director for The Alliance of Baptists. "This new policy sounds to me like an interfering witch hunt."

State Baptist conventions in Georgia and Florida also have anti-gay policies.

The proposal in North Carolina needed a two-thirds majority from the convention's 3,500 participants to pass. No precise count of the hand vote was taken, but convention officials said that the measure had passed.

Several delegates criticized the convention for breaching the autonomy of individual churches and focusing on such a polarizing issue.

"Let's spend more time confessing our own sins than exposing the sins of others," said Don Gordon, senior pastor of Yates Baptist Church in Durham, who still labeled homosexuality as sinful behavior. "Let's let the whole world know that God loves every person."

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