Conrad was open to accepting them as fellow believers of Christ.
However, not everyone felt the same way.
“We probably lost 30% of our attendance pretty quickly,” said Conrad, who’s led the church for 27 years. “Not many folks even stayed around for the discussion. We lost some folks I had done church with for the entire time I was pastor here. It was painful.”
Now the church, which pre-pandemic had between 125 and 150 regular attendees, finds itself facing possible disfellowship from the Southern Baptist Convention over that stance.
The SBC opposes same-sex marriage and believes that homosexuality goes against biblical teachings.
If action is taken, the SBC would cut ties with the church and Towne View would not be allowed to send messengers to the annual convention.
Messengers are very influential in the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with more than 14.6 million members and more than 47,500 churches. Messengers can elect officers, approve trustees and vote on the direction of the convention until the next annual meeting. The 2021 annual meeting will be held in June in Nashville, where the denomination is based.
Churches can still keep affiliations on the state and local levels and to give money to missions. Local churches are autonomous and the denomination does not own church property.
Conrad said the church received a letter in December 2019 from the SBC’s Credentials Committee that it was “under investigation.”
“We knew in 2019 that someone had reported us to the SBC,” he said, but church officials heard nothing from the Credentials Committee until recently.
Then in a Feb. 8 letter, the church was informed that the denomination’s credentialing body plans to report to the Executive Committee during its meeting later this month, that in its opinion “Towne View Baptist Church is not in friendly cooperation with the convention” because of church actions that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior including the church’s adoption of a October 13, 2019 recommendation to extend church membership to practicing LGBTQ congregants.”
The SBC’s Credentials Committee has a policy not to comment on any submissions it receives unless and they make a recommendation to the full Executive Committee for disfellowship, and the executive committee acts on that recommendation, according to a statement from the SBC Executive Committee.
A decision could come in a few weeks.
And it’s not one that denomination officials say will be taken lightly.
“The matter will be considered with much prayer as we grieve whenever a church is recommended as not having a faith and practice that does not identify with that of the Southern Baptist Convention’s adopted statement of faith, ‘The Baptist Faith & Message,’” according to the Feb. 8 letter.
Conrad, though, said he won’t fight a disfellowship decision.
“I know the position we’ve taken is outside of their bylaws, but we won’t appeal it,” he said. “We’re just trying to do church here.”
He said if action is taken, the congregation will most likely become independent for awhile until they can determine if their viewpoints, mission and ministry fits better with another group.
It’s not the first time the SBC has been in conflict with local churches for their stance on controversial issues, including the role of women pastors in the denomination, race and LGBTQ inclusion.
In 2014, ties with a California church were severed after the pastor and some members said they believed “same-sex marriage can be blessed by God,” according to an article in the Baptist Press.
Former President Jimmy Carter left the SBC in 2000 over the role of women.
Pastor David Jordan, of First Baptist Church of Decatur has had his own run ins with more conservative Baptists over same-sex issues. The church had ordained gay deacons and is an LGBTQ-inclusive congregation.
Last year, the Atlanta Metro Baptist Association severed ties with the church over what it calls a “misalignment” of biblical standards, according a previous article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Being an affirming church may send “shockwaves through more traditional” congregations in places like Kennesaw, Jordan said in an interview Wednesday. “We had the advantage of being in Decatur and surrounded by a community that was leaning in that direction of being welcoming and affirming.”
As the Rev. Jeremy Hall, associate pastor at Towne View, sees it, “what we voted on was that all persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ and have been baptized, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, will be accepted into membership without exception. We made this decision, not in disregarding Scripture, but being motivated by our reading of Scripture.”