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SC Baptist Convention challenges Greenville’s First Baptist over LGBT policy

The sun rises on First Baptist Church in Greenville in June.
The sun rises on First Baptist Church in Greenville in June. GREENVILLE NEWS

The South Carolina Baptist Convention has called on First Baptist Greenville to recant its LGBT nondiscrimination policy or face the possibility of being disassociated from the group of more than 2,000 churches.

The chairman of the convention’s executive board, Dwight Easler, sent a letter to the church requesting a response by Sept. 10, according to a report in the Baptist Courier.

The Greenville-based publication lists itself as the “official newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.”

The convention’s interim executive director, Richard Harris, declined to comment to The Greenville News on Friday and said via email that no one else has been designated to speak about the subject.

First Baptist’s senior pastor, Jim Dant, hasn’t responded to a request to comment.

In May, a vast majority of the church congregation affirmed a consensus statement that effectively allows marriage of gay couples and opens the way for LGBT members to be appointed to leadership positions, including ordination.

In an interview with The News over the summer, Dant said that the affirmation followed a six-month discernment process and that he believes the church’s move will encourage evangelical gay people to return to their Baptist heritage.

The move wasn’t a vote on whether homosexuality was right or wrong, Dant told The News, only that the church could worship together without discriminating against LGBT marriage and participation in leadership roles.

Dant said that Jesus never addressed homosexuality and that Christians today aren’t bound by oft-cited Old Testament law used to denounce homosexuality, law that also encouraged slavery and subjugation of women.

In 1999, First Baptist disassociated itself from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, which has condemned homosexuality following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in June to legalize same-sex marriage.

The convention’s first president when it was formed in 1845 was the founding pastor of First Baptist, and the church served as the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Baptist Courierreported this week that Easler had sent a letter to First Baptist “asking members to recant, to agree to the definition of marriage according the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, or withdraw from the state convention.”

Easler hasn’t responded to inquiries today by The News.

On Aug. 3 – the day The News posted a feature story detailing First Baptist’s decision – Easler responded to the move on his Facebook page.

“In 1999 the SBC was just too rigid for them,” Easler wrote. “Now we see where their soft theology leads.”

First Baptist has affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, an umbrella coalition of nearly 2,000 moderate Baptist churches that formed in 1991 after churches left the Southern Baptist Convention.

However, the CBF – which doesn’t bind associated churches with hierarchical resolutions and states that it honors the traditional autonomy of Baptist churches – has an active policy that prohibits it from spending funds on organizations that condone homosexual behavior.

First Baptist remains listed on the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s website as a participating church.

The Baptist Courier in its report states that if First Baptist doesn’t withdraw from the state convention or if it maintains its marriage and ordination views, the next likely course of action would be a motion to remove the church from the convention at the SCBC’s annual meeting in November.

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