A Georgia pastor who has been expelled from America’s largest Protestant denomination for welcoming a queer couple into his congregation insists he doesn’t regret the decision he made.
Pastor Jim Conrad, of Kennesaw’s Towne View Baptist Church, got in trouble with the Southern Baptist Convention after welcoming a gay couple with three adopted children as members of his church in October 2019.
“We decided that ‘all means all,’” Conrad told HuffPost in an email. “We will share His Good News with everyone and welcome anyone who calls Jesus Lord.”
About 30% of the congregation left after Conrad took this stance, which meant the church’s budget shrunk and the pastor took a pay cut, according to The Associated Press. And on Tuesday, the SBC’s executive committee announced that it was kicking Towne View Baptist out of its network of churches for “affirming homosexuality.”
“We are guilty as charged,” the pastor said.
Conrad, a longtime Southern Baptist, said he felt some personal grief over being expelled from a denomination that has been part of his spiritual life for decades. But the SBC has moved farther to the right in recent years than the pastor is comfortable with, he said.
Conrad also pointed out that conservative theology on sexual orientation and gender is “at least complicit” in the “alarmingly” high rate of suicide attempts among LGBTQ adolescents.
“Telling teens that the God who created them in his image hates them because they aren’t straight or cisgender is a dangerous message,” he said.
Conrad said his church doesn’t plan to appeal the executive committee’s decision. Asked if he would make the same decision again, knowing the outcome, Conrad wrote, “YES!”
“If the grace of God isn’t for everybody then it’s not for anybody,” Conrad wrote.
If the grace of God isn’t for everybody then it’s not for anybody.
The SBC’s executive committee announced the expulsion at the close of the denomination’s annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to Towne View Baptist, the committee disfellowshipped a second church for apparently affirming homosexuality ― Kentucky’s St. Matthews Baptist Church. The church reportedly made financial contributions to another Baptist network, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which lets member churches hire LGBTQ individuals in non-ministerial roles.
Two additional churches were also disfellowshipped at the meeting, both for employing pastors convicted of sex offenses ― Tennessee’s Antioch Baptist Church and Pennsylvania’s West Side Baptist Church. The SBC has faced calls in recent years for greater accountability on the issue of sexual abuse.
The SBC, which was founded in 1845 in defense of slavery, views itself as a network of over 50,000 independent and self-governing Baptist churches. This doctrine of autonomy has sometimes prevented the group from acting in a unified way on certain issues, such as creating a denomination-wide database of sex offenders. But this doesn’t mean joint action is rare ― the SBC has reportedly disfellowshipped at least six churches in little over a decade for affirming or endorsing queer relationships.
The expulsions come at a time when Black members of the SBC are questioning whether the denomination will also hold churches accountable for failing to understand how racism still affects Black Americans.
Earlier this year, two Southern Baptist pastors from Texas publicly compared Vice President Kamala Harris to the Bible’s Queen Jezebel ― drawing on a trope that Black religious scholars say is both racist and sexist. One of those pastors, Steve Swofford, sits on the SBC’s executive committee and was the chair of the team responsible for selecting the committee’s president. He has yet to face discipline for his words. The SBC executive committee chairman was not available for comment, a spokesperson said.
Some Black pastors have left or have contemplated leaving the denomination over leaders’ unwillingness to grapple with how systemic racism persists in America. One of those pastors is Dwight McKissic, a conservative Black pastor from Texas whose ties to the SBC have been fraying in recent weeks.
McKissic suggested on Twitter that, while he agrees with the SBC’s decision to boot out churches over their approach to LGBTQ people, he thinks churches should also be disfellowshipped for not disciplining their members for “racism & rebellion.”