Georgia's Baptist convention expels 2 churches over gays

Author: Associated Press

November 17, 1999

Edition: THIRD
Section: NEWS
Page: 13A

Georgia's Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to expel two churches that let gays serve as leaders and allowed a gay wedding.

The ouster of Oakhurst Baptist of Decatur and Virginia Highland Baptist of Atlanta marked the first time in the 177-year history of the Georgia Baptist Convention that it has taken such action. The convention changed its constitution last year to exclude congregations that "affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior."

"It's a heartbreaking thing to be put in a situation where you have to make a decision like this," said the Rev. Gerald Harris, president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. "We just decided to draw the line."

Texas is the only other Southern Baptist state convention to expel a church over the issue of homosexuality, said the Rev. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics and religious liberty commission.

The national convention expelled two North ! Carolina churches in the early '90s for similar reasons.

Last year, the Baptist General Convention of Texas decided to refuse contributions from University Baptist Church in Austin and asked the church to stop identifying itself as part of the convention. The action came because the church had made a gay man a deacon and made it clear it did not consider homosexuality to be a sin.

In Georgia, about 20 percent to 30 percent of Oakhurst Baptist's congregation is gay or lesbian, said the Rev. Mary Sue Brookshire. In addition, the church's assistant pastor is gay. Both churches have gay deacons. And Virginia Highland allowed an outside pastor to use its church for a gay wedding.

The churches argued that their interpretations of the Bible led them to conclude that gays and lesbians should not be excluded from leadership roles. Opponents said homosexuality is a sin.

Copyright 1999 The Dallas Morning News
Record Number: 4100486