Citing deteriorating relations with the Georgia Baptist Convention, First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., is considering moving its membership to the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
The church’s deacon body recently approved a recommendation from a denominational relations committee to make the move.
“We see this as a great opportunity to join with likeminded Baptists who welcome our participation,” Janie Peacock, chair of the denominational relations committee, said in a statement.
Following a series of information and dialogue meetings, the proposal is expected to come to a vote at a called church conference some time in March.
First Baptist Church of Rome was a leading participant in Georgia Baptist life for decades, until “dynamics of the Southern Baptist Convention came to Georgia,” said Pastor Joel Snider. Since then, he said, “our participation has apparently not been appreciated.”
Among grievances, Snider cited instances where qualified members of the church were recommended as potential trustees of state convention agencies but were not asked to serve. The Rome church has decreased its level of funding for the state convention in response to convention actions over the years.
The church’s relations with the state convention became further strained by the Georgia Baptist Convention’s legal dispute over ownership of Shorter College, which is located in Rome. First Baptist filed two amicus briefs with Georgia’s state Supreme Court supporting the college, which moved to a self-perpetuating trustee board in 2003.
Deacon chair Tom Bennett said church leaders were attracted to the Baptist General Association of Virginia because of the group’s support of women in ministry and diversity among member churches. “We simply resonate with the spirit of the BGAV,” Bennett aid in a statement.
Last fall First Baptist fought against changing bylaws of Floyd County Baptist Association to declare the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message—which limits pastoral leadership roles to men—as the association’s official faith statement.
After the motion passed 428-130, another congregation–North Broad Baptist Church, which earlier had called a man-and-wife team as co-pastors–left the association that it helped establish in 1893.
A vote to leave the Georgia convention would in effect also remove First Baptist Church from Floyd Association, which requires member churches to be in good standing with the state body, Snider said.
But Snider said aligning with the BGAV would not diminish the church’s participation in another Baptist group–the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. First Baptist recently donated a $50,000 budget surplus to tsunami relief through the CBF, prompting First Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C., to take similar action, donating $50,000 from reserves accumulated over the last decade to tsunami relief.
Many Baptist state conventions that have become polarized as fundamentalist-vs.-moderate battles trickled down from the Southern Baptist Convention. Conservatives in Virginia, however, separated early from the established body rather than trying to gain control through convention politics.
The BGAV is one of two state conventions, along with Texas, recently accepted into membership of the North American Baptist Fellowship, a regional body affiliated with the Baptist World Alliance.
This summer the Southern Baptist Convention voted to end ties with the BWA, saying the 100-year-old group had become too tolerant of liberal views.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.