In May, First Baptist Church of Greenville, already known as a more liberal church, took a step even more to the left when it agreed on a nondiscriminatory policy that would allow gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people not only to be members of the church, but to be ordained.
The consensus statement of the church reads as follows: “In all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Following the decision, the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (with which First Baptist Greenville is affiliated), which has not endorsed same-sex marriage or LGBT ordination, responded that while it honors the autonomy of each local church, “the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness.” The statement added that CBF does not “condone, advocate, or affirm homosexual practice.”
Most Southern Baptists would certainly consider the CBF as left of center; theologically, First Baptist Greenville has placed itself to the left of the CBF.
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said, “My heart was grieved when I heard of the decision made by the First Baptist Church of Greenville.” He told the Christian Examiner, “Southern Baptists stand believing that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. On June 16, 2015, our convention adopted a strong and clear resolution on biblical marriage. Unapologetically and unashamedly, we stand upon the teachings of Holy Scripture regarding sexuality and marriage.”
South Carolina Baptist Convention president Tommy Kelly added, “While Southern Baptists embrace such principles as local church autonomy and the priesthood of individual believers, these principles should never trump biblical authority. According to Matthew 19:4-5, marriage is between one man and one woman within a covenant relationship. As SCBC president, I do not support the decision endorsed by Greenville [First Baptist] to marry, ordain, and allow transgendered or homosexual people to serve in church leadership. It is in direct opposition to biblical precedent and standard.”
Greenville First’s senior pastor, Jim Dant, stated, “There’s no family value system in the Bible that we would lay into the 21st century. We don’t have two wives and sleep with our maids and have a bunch of children and that be fine. What we believe about marriage and family is culturally driven, not biblically driven.”
Al Phillips, director of missions for Greenville Baptist Association, said, “It is deeply disappointing to see one of our historic churches intentionally leave its biblical roots and reject biblical truth. Truth and love are not mutually exclusive. We are called to love sinners, not reject them, but we don’t love the sinner if we don’t tell them the truth about the consequences of that sin. We pray that First Church Greenville will one day return to its biblical roots.”
Greenville First Baptist left the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1990s and is no longer a part of the Greenville Baptist Association. The church is still listed in the South Carolina Baptist Convention annual as an SCBC church unaffiliated with any association.
Dwight Easler, chairman of the Executive Board of the SCBC, sent the church a letter asking members to recant, to agree to the definition of marriage according the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, or withdraw from the state convention. The church requested until Sept. 10 to respond.
Richard Harris, interim SCBC executive director-treasurer, said, “We cannot accept, approve or condone those kind of beliefs. Our stance is clearly stated in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. We cannot walk in agreement with a church that accepts those beliefs.”
It sounds as if Greenville First Baptist has no intention of recanting its position. According to a story in the Greenville News, Dant said, “In some ways, it’s going to open up a space for evangelical gay people to have a place again. There will be a voice of biblical interpretation in the evangelical world that says the way this has been interpreted by the average preacher on AM radio every Sunday is not the only way that evangelicals read biblical literature.”
If the church does not withdraw from the South Carolina Baptist Convention and continues to maintain its new marriage and ordination views, the next course of action would likely come as a motion at the annual meeting to remove the church from the state convention.