Georgia Baptists wrap up annual meeting in Albany

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Georgia Baptist Convention wrapped up its annual meeting at Sherwood Baptist Church last week with two major decisions.

The GBC followed through with a promise to disfellowship Druid Hills Baptist Church of Atlanta for calling a woman as pastor and accepted its first African-American association in the past 165 years.

Druid Hills, which was warned in March that it risked disfellowship over having Mimi Walker as co-pastor with her husband, Graham, became the second long-time GBC member to lose fellowship in the past two years.

Last year, the GBC took similar action against First Baptist Church of Decatur for having a woman, Julie Pennington-Russell, as pastor.

"The GBC has never been opposed to women serving in ministry positions other than pastor," GBC Executive Director J. Robert White said. "Women are serving as gifted leaders in churches all across our state."

Under the GBC Constitution, the church is not considered a cooperating church in accord with the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message affirmed by the Southern Baptist Convention and GBC in 2000. The document states that "while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

The more than 1,000 delegates (called messengers) gathered at Sherwood voted overwhelmingly to oust Druid Hills.

"We are acting on what we believe are biblically held convictions," Executive committee chairman Fred Evers, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, told the Associated Baptist Press in defending the ouster. "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."

In the other major news of the meeting, the GBC accepted the South Atlanta Baptist Association into the Convention. The SABA is newly formed group of more than 40 African-American churches in the Atlanta area and is the first black Baptist association to be accepted into the GBC since 1865.

"I want to stress that the South Atlanta Baptist Association is not segregated; any Baptist church can join us," SABA Moderator Posey Redmond said. "The meeting in Albany was exciting for us. Every church and messenger gave us a warm welcome and made us feel very much at home. We think our acceptance (into the GBC) will add much to the convention. We hold fast and first to the same ideals.

"This will give us more of an opportunity to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ into other areas."

The GBC, an affiliate of the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, has more than 3,600 churches with approximately 1.3 million members.