HATTIESBURG, Miss. (Christian Examiner)—Last week a Baptist association in Hattiesburg, Miss., dismissed one of its member churches for affirming the homosexual lifestyle. The decision came after the Pine Belt Baptist Association discovered gaychurch.org lists University Baptist Church as an "affirming" church on its website.
Noting that the gaychurch.org website defines "affirming" as "the church does not view homosexuality in and of itself as a sin," the association gave University Baptist a choice—disassociate from the website or disassociate from the association. The association gave the church until 2 p.m. on Oct. 20 to make a decision.
"The Executive Committee [of the Pine Belt Baptist Association] believes that a church considering themselves as 'affirming'—according to the definition listed on the aforementioned website—operates with a doctrine that is inconsistent with the Baptist Faith and Message," the association wrote in a letter to University Baptist on Oct. 8.
The letter went on to note that the association's by-laws state that a church "practicing doctrine contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message is at risk of being removed from the fellowship of the association."
Article 15 of The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 states, "In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography."
University Baptist Church said in an Oct. 27 response that their current membership policy—which is to welcome "all people into the congregation who confess Jesus as Lord"—was established in the early 1970s when they became one of the first churches in the association and in the Mississippi State Baptist Convention to racially integrate.
The statement noted that the church will continue to remain a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance. The CBF began in 1991 as a cooperative missions effort for more liberal and moderate Southern Baptists after the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. According to the CBF website it takes no official position on homosexuality though it does restrict the hiring of practicing homosexuals and the funding of organizations that "condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practices," according to the Frequently Asked Questions on its website.
University Baptist Church does not appear as a cooperating church on the websites of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
Southern Baptist national entities, state conventions and local associations have been consistent in their dealings on the subject of homosexuality as the topic has come to them over the past 25 years. In 2014 a California Baptist church made national news when its pastor attempted to affirm a "third way" on the topic of homosexuality, where church leaders could hold varying positions. Both the Executive Committee of the SBC and the California Southern Baptist Convention withdrew fellowship with the church. The Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association executive board recommended its body not seat messengers from the church at its meeting last fall, according to Baptist Press.
The Southern Baptist Convention in 1992 amended its constitution to state that churches who "affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior" are not in cooperation with the convention.
The amendment was made in response to two North Carolina, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, which had voted to bless the union of two homosexual males, and Binkley Memorial Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, which voted to license a homosexual as a minister.
This isn't the first time University Baptist Church has made public stances that seem to affirm homosexuality. The church's pastor, Rusty Edwards, signed a March 2014 letter opposing a religious freedom law that was seeking to protect businesses that wanted to refuse service to the LGBT community based on their religious beliefs.
The Pine Belt Baptist Association said in its original Oct. 8 letter that it didn't make the decision to remove the church "lightly" and hopes it will not create division or discord with University Baptist Church.
"Our desire is that the handling of this issue would not create division or discord with University Baptist Church, sister churches, and the other churches of the greater Pine Belt region, all of whom are attempting to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations," the association wrote. "However, we, the Executive Committee, are unashamedly confident that churches affirming the homosexual lifestyle are 'not seeing to follow the teaching of Scripture and are not in friendly cooperation with the mission and purpose of the Mississippi Baptist Convention.'"
In 2014, SBC president Ronnie Floyd told Baptist Press that amending the SBC constituion clearly was a necessary move.
"The events of the last 20 years have validated the wisdom of this action as our culture has moved further and further from biblical sexual ethics," said Floyd who told BP he supported the action taken some 20 years ago.
Southen Baptists have made it clear, Floyd said, they will not give in on the issue.
"The constitutional amendment was significant because it made clear that Southern Baptists would not succumb to those who were willing then -- and are increasingly willing today -- to compromise biblical convictions in exchange for cultural approval," said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas.