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Southern Baptists oust two churches over LGBTQ inclusion

The Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee voted Tuesday to oust four of its churches, two over policies deemed to be too inclusive of LGBTQ people and two more for employing pastors convicted of sex offenses.

The actions were announced at a meeting marked by warnings from two top leaders that the SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, was damaging itself with divisions over several critical issues including race.

“We should mourn when closet racists and neo-Confederates feel more at home in our churches than do many of our people of color,” said the SBC’s president, J.D. Greear, in his opening speech.

The two churches expelled for LGBTQ inclusion were St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Towne View Baptist Church, in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Towne View’s pastor, the Rev. Jim Conrad, told The Associated Press last week that he would not appeal the ouster and plans to affiliate his church, at least temporarily, with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which lets churches set their own LGBTQ policies.

Towne View began admitting LGBTQ worshippers as members in October 2019 after a same-sex couple with three adopted children asked Conrad if they could attend, a decision he defends as the right thing to do.

“The alternative would have been to say, ‘We’re probably not ready for this,’ but I couldn’t do that,” said Conrad, pastor there since 1994.

St. Matthews Baptist was among more than 12 churches that lost their affiliation with the Kentucky Baptist Convention in 2018 because they made financial contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which had recently lifted a ban on hiring LGBTQ employees.

In a statement Tuesday, St. Matthews said the SBC’s decision to oust it was based on its LGBTQ-inclusive membership policy — which asserts that “a belief in Jesus as personal Savior is the sole criterion for membership in our Church.”

“Nothing in the Southern Baptist Convention’s decision changes St. Matthews Baptist Church’s deep commitment to carrying out what God calls us to do in our worship and spiritual growth,” the church said.

SBC officials said West Side Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, was ousted because it “knowingly employs as pastor a registered sex offender,” while Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee, has a pastor who was convicted of statutory rape.

Baptist Press, the SBC’s official news agency, identified the Antioch Baptist pastor as John Randy Leming Jr., and said he had pleaded guilty in 1998 to two counts of statutory rape for oral sex with a 16-year-old congregant when he pastored at nearby Shiloh Baptist Church in Sevier County in 1994. The Associated Press was unable to find a working phone number for Leming’s church and there was no immediate reply to a message sent via its Facebook page.

West Side Baptist had made clear on its website that its pastor, David Pearson, has a troubled past.

“Over 29 years ago Pastor David lived as a great sinner and rebel,” the site says. “But Christ Jesus is a great Savior! Today Pastor David has gone from disgrace to amazing grace and now has served the Lord Jesus Christ at West Side for 18 years.”

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