The First Baptist Church in Greenville, SC, made headlines recently with its decision to “allow same-sex couples to marry in the church,” “ordain gay ministers,” and “embrace the complexities of gender identity.” The senior minister of one of the oldest churches in the city dating back to the early 1800’s explains how they came to this decision:
“What I heard was, ‘We need to do the right thing, regardless of what anybody thinks or says about us,’” says Jim Dant, the 184-year-old church’s senior minister who led the church through its six-month discernment. “There were a few people who said, ‘Are they going to start calling us the gay church in town?’”
The dialogue culminated into a consensus — the kind that, by the earliest tradition of Baptist discernment, resulted in a public affirmation by each present member.
The call wasn’t to render a verdict on whether homosexuality is right or wrong.
Instead, it was the general agreement of a congregation that it could hold divergent personal beliefs but still come together in a desire to worship and serve.
Apparently this had been a long time in the works. The article outlines the gradual, step-by-step acceptance of this sin by the First Baptist congregation:
Throughout the years, First Baptist has identified itself as a congregation of moderate temperament.
And for years, the LGBT community has worshiped in the church alongside heterosexual peers.
The sentiment throughout much of the church’s recent history, Dant says, was one of general acceptance of the LGBT community, but with an unspoken, de facto “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
When the church recently decided to state its position clearly, it at first was “headed down the road to having a vote with winners and losers.”
Instead, he says, the conversation began as one of discernment with an eye toward reaching a statement of consensus.
Over the course of four Sunday evenings in November, more than 200 people sat in circles of eight and engaged in candid discussions.
Personal convictions varied, Dant says, and members made themselves vulnerable, on all sides, in a spirit of fellowship.
The discussions distilled into a central question: “Can you worship and live with the LGBT community in the church?”
The answer, for the most part, was yes.
The members then affirmed that “being open and welcoming to all people is part of the essential nature of our community of faith.”
The next crucial step, Dant says, was assuring members that no one would try to tell them that their personal convictions were wrong.
The process led to a brief but pointed consensus statement: “In all facets of the life and ministry of our church, including but not limited to membership, baptism, ordination, marriage, teaching and committee/organizational leadership, First Baptist Greenville will not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In May, members of the congregation during a service were invited to stand to affirm the consensus statement. The vast majority stood. The few who didn’t were then offered the opportunity to stand to agree to remain in fellowship.
By the end, all were standing.
Today, First Baptist can perform same-sex marriages.
And members, no matter their sexual orientation, can serve in leadership roles and can be ordained as ministers.
First Baptist in Greenville reminds me of the church at Corinth two thousand years ago. They had boastfully allowed an unrepentant sexually immoral person to stay among them rather than mournfully withdrawing fellowship from him. God inspired the apostle Paul to rebuke them by saying:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.
For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one.
Purge the evil person from among you.
— 1 Corinthians 5:1-6, 11, 13b
By allowing for years open fellowship with those in known, unrepentant sin, First Baptist had opened the door for its members to eventually accept the sin and no longer even attempt to put God’s will above their own.
Thus, they intentionally avoided “the call…to render a verdict on whether homosexuality is right or wrong” while claiming, “We need to do the right thing, regardless of what anybody thinks or says about us.” Never mind that God specifically cites homosexuality as sinful in the New Testament (Rom. 1:26-28; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10).
Thus, “the dialogue culminated into a consensus…the general agreement of a congregation that it could hold divergent personal beliefs but still come together in a desire to worship and serve.” Never mind that God specifically commands congregations that “there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10).
Apparently, it’s more important for First Baptist to be popular and accepted by the world than it is by God. Again, I’m reminded by the divinely inspired words of Paul:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
— Galatians 1:10
Christians, this is what happens when we “tolerate” unrepentant sin among us. We end up accepting it, and by doing so we become God’s enemy even while we arrogantly and naively still consider ourselves to be his friend (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17).
Truly, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump!”