In recent years, progress towards full lgbt inclusion in church has been remarkable, with the appointment of openly gay and lesbian bishops, landmark national decisions by some denominations to remove barriers to ordination for LGBT pastors, and local decisions by individual congregations to conduct same – sex weddings or blessings for queer couples (or to withhold weddings for all couples, until they are able to offer them to all, without discrimination). The headline news reports have usually featured (mainline) Protestant denominations – and resistance by some dissenting congregations, transferring their allegiance to alternative umbrella bodies.
The movement towards welcoming and affirming congregations is present though in all denominations, and that includes the Evangelical churches. In these, it is sometimes the refusal to accept inclusion, not its endorsement, that leads congregations to disaffiliate. This was the case in Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Central Baptist’s commitment to inclusion is clear from its website, right on the homepage: see the logo, and the clear promise just beneath it : “All Are Welcome – No Exceptions”.
The Central pastor, Mark Johnson, had written a blog post that featured a poster based marketing campaign by an Indianapolis church. affiliated to the MCC, that asked the pertinent question “Who Stole Jesus?“. This resulted in a complaint from the pastor of a sister – church to the Elkhorn Baptist Association. In response, the congregation opted to withdraw from the association
The congregation opted to leave the association rather than fight, but added a public statement to make clear that all Baptists do not agree on everything.
“We have been quiet for too long,” said church member Rachel Childress. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in our community who do not know there is a Baptist church like us.”
Central Baptist Church’s website lists mission partners including the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The church left the Southern Baptist Convention and Kentucky Baptist Convention a decade ago. Johnson said those decisions made the vote to leave the association “a natural and predictable course of direction.”
Johnson said Central Baptist Church wants to identify itself as “an open and inviting fellowship for God’s people.” A motto on the church website says: “All are welcomed here. No exceptions.”
The press release said Central Baptist harbors “no feelings of animosity toward or alienation from the people or programs” of Elkhorn Baptist Association, but believes “it is best to officially part ways.” The church will continue to work with Irishtown Baptist Mission in downtown Lexington, a ministry supported by the association that Central took the lead in establishing 50 years ago.
In fact, this withdrawal neatly highlights the relevance of the “Who Stole Jesus?” question. The whole Gospel message affirms the primacy of love, mercy and compassion over strict adherence to rigid religious rules and bureaucratic control. By withdrawing from a body that seeks to impose religious conformity, they are simply refusing to allow them to “steal Jesus” away from them.
- KY Baptist Church Leaves Southern Baptist Convention Over LGBT Issues (lezgetreal.com)
- Change of Heart for a Pastor (mlp.org)