Georgia Baptists oust second church with woman pastor

November 16, 2010

ALBANY, Ga. (ABP) – For the second year in a row, the Georgia Baptist
Convention has withdrawn fellowship from one of its most historic member
churches for calling a woman as pastor.

Meeting Nov. 15-16 at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., more than
1,000 GBC messengers endorsed a March vote by the convention’s executive
committee declaring that Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta is not a “cooperating church” under the denomination’s articles of faith.

The convention overwhelmingly accepted a recommendation by its executive
committee stating “that Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta is not a
cooperating church as defined in Article 2, Section 1 of the
constitution, because a woman is serving as co-pastor and that Druid
Hills Baptist Church of Atlanta be excluded from the convention and all
rights and privileges thereof.”

That article defines cooperation in terms of fidelity to the 2000 version
of the Southern Baptist Convention's Baptist Faith and Message
statement, which says in part, “While men and women are gifted for
service within the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as
qualified by Scripture.”

Mimi Walker, co-pastor of Druid Hills with her husband, Graham, who
teaches at McAfee School of Theology, has been listed as a pastor in the
state convention's annual record book since 2003. Last year convention
leaders viewed that as “a matter of concern,” said executive committee
member Tom Rush, prompting a meeting between leaders of the convention
and congregation. After the meeting, the executive committee approved a recommendation by its administrative committee to withdraw fellowship from Druid Hills.

'Selective creedal application'

Carey Charles, a deacon and fourth-generation member at Druid Hills,
described the church’s goal to messengers as “first and foremost
missional.”

“When Baptist churches are closing their doors inside the I-285
perimeter [the freeway that surrounds the central part of the Atlanta
area] today at a historically rapid pace, and that [what was] once 166
Baptist churches are now down to a mere 39, we at Druid Hills Baptist
have deliberately chosen to stay and bear a testimony as stated in our
core values -- to love God, to share Christ, to serve others and grow in
faith,” Charles said.

"In staying, we recognize that we must ask tough questions, missional
questions; not something that unifies only our church, but also that
unifies our church in our neighborhood, city and world immediately
surrounding us,” he said. “Therefore we chose the Walkers, both of whom
have been recognized as partners in mission by the International Mission
Board of the Southern Baptist Convention for 12 years of service in the
Philippines, who deeply share our passion for what is now a growing
mission field inside Atlanta.”

Michael Ruffin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fitzgerald, Ga., urged
messengers to consider “selective creedal application” of the
confession of faith.

“So far as I can tell, we are applying no other provision of or line in
the Baptist Faith and Message statement in the way as the line about the
office of pastor being reserved for men,” Ruffin said. “If an
autonomous Georgia Baptist Church calls a woman as a pastor, they will
now automatically be deemed a non-cooperating church.”

“There are many, many, many more provisions in the Baptist Faith and
Message,” Ruffin warned. “I don’t want the GBC to become even more
creedal in its application of the Baptist Faith and Message than it has
on this one score. We really should consider the arbitrariness of such
an application. I think we also ought to consider the possibility that
if we get serious about holding every Georgia Baptist Convention church
accountable to every line in the Baptist Faith and Message as we are
this one, we’ll soon have no churches left.”

Executive committee chairman Fred Evers, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, Ga., defended the recommendation.

“We are acting on what we believe are biblically held convictions,” he
said. “We certainly affirm the right of any church to call whom they
will as pastor. We certainly want to affirm the great contribution of
faithful women who serve across our state in our churches in proper,
biblical roles. We certainly affirm the great contribution that Druid
Hills Baptist Church has made in the history of our Georgia Baptist
Convention. However, we have, as a convention, clearly defined what
constitutes a fully cooperating church in the Georgia Baptist
Convention.”

Historic congregation

Following the vote, the convention will no longer receive funds from the
church and will not allow messengers from the congregation to the
annual meeting. That ends a historic relationship dating back to the
congregation's founding in 1914. Louis Newton,
who served as Druid Hills' pastor for four decades -- including a stint
as president of the Southern Baptist Convention -- is one of the most
recognizable names in Georgia Baptist history. He wrote daily columns
for two of the state's largest newspapers and was often called "Mr.
Baptist."

Last year Georgia Baptists took similar action against First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., a long-time leading church in the convention until it called Julie Pennington-Russell as pastor in 2007.

“The Georgia Baptist Convention has never been opposed to women serving
in ministry positions other than pastor,” Robert White, the convention’s
executive director, said in a statement. “Women are serving as gifted
leaders in churches all across our state"