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 leaders that the SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, was damaging itself with divisions over critical issues including race.
The two churches expelled for LGBTQ inclusion were St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., and Towne View Baptist Church, in Kennesaw, Ga.
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 with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which lets churches set their own LGBTQ policies.
Towne View began admitting LGBTQ members in October 2019 after a same-sex couple with three adopted children asked Conrad if they could attend.
“The alternative would have been to say, ‘We’re probably not ready for this,’ but I couldn’t do that,” said Conrad.
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.”
“SBC officials said West Side Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Penn., was ousted because it “knowingly employs as pastor a registered sex offender,” while Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tenn., 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 of a 16-year-old congregant when he pastored at nearby Shiloh Baptist Church in Sevier County in 1994.
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.”
Pearson is listed on Florida’s sex-offender registry as having been convicted of sexual assault of a child in Texas in 1993.