By David Vandygriff
A Baptist church founded in 1826 recently opened its doors to same-sex marriage. The First Baptist Church of Christ, one of the longest-running congregations in the city of Macon voted in August to celebrate same-sex marriage.
The Washington Post reports that the church is one of 2,000 to leave the conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the past two decades.
The SBC bans same-sex marriage and no member church is allowed to practice or celebrate same-sex marriage. The church voted on 27 August to extend its policies to include same-sex marriage.
Pastor Scott Dickison, and church deacons chair Bonnie Chappell, told the Post that the decision had been made after an “exhausting journey”, which took years and threatened to divide the church’s membership.
Discussions on whether to accept same-sex marriage began five years ago with discussions on Christian ethics of homosexuality. “We had talked about this subject in hushed tones for so long that it was difficult to make the discussion formal,” Chappell said.
But two years after the US Supreme Court voted to legalize same-sex marriage across all 50 US states, the church voted to allow same-sex marriage. The pastor says he and the deacons wanted to ensure that the situation with dealt with mutual respect, and that all viewpoints were heard on the issue. This meant that people were heard and reactions to those opinions were asked to be neutral.
“One of our older members said to me afterward, ‘I’ve been wondering why we are putting ourselves through this, but now I get it,’ ” the pastor told the Post. Both Chappell and Dickison had hoped to resolve the divide without the need for a vote. But a secret ballot took place of 230 members, and more than 70 percent voted to accept same-sex marriage.
A blog by the pastor just before the vote said: “We are standing on the edge of a big decision, and that has brought with it an understandable measure of anxiety. I hope that naming our fears and hopes—hearing that many others share them—has given you a measure of peace about Sunday’s vote.”
And after, he wrote: “It’s hard to put this past month in the life of our church into words. We’ve had good, hard conversations about inclusion, scripture and the church. We’ve heard powerful testimonies from some of our own. “We’ve learned about each other and who we are as a congregation; what binds us together, as well as the differences among us. And of course, all of this came to a head on Sunday with our vote. It has been a remarkable journey, and one that has left us with some tenderness. But I’m proud of where we’ve come together.”
Some members did leave the church after the decision and the pastor said he was “grieving”, but he said he hopes other members will stick around to see that the church had not changed.