First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., voted Sunday to join the Baptist General Association of Virginia and leave the Georgia Baptist Convention.

The 321-16 vote followed a study by the church’s denominational relations committee and several weeks of “town hall” meetings to discuss the proposal.

The BGAV “provides us with a relationship with an organization with which we have greater agreement on significant theological issues,” Joel Snider, pastor of First Baptist, said in the Rome Tribune.

Long a prominent church in Georgia Baptist life, church members said those ties have weakened as the Southern Baptist and state conventions, as well as Floyd Baptist Association, have moved away from “historic Baptist principles” such as the autonomy of the local church, priesthood of the believer and “diminution of the role of Jesus as the standard for faith and practice,” according to a news release.

Another factor, Snider told the Rome newspaper, is volunteer mission opportunities offered by Virginia Baptists, which are “simply a better fit for us” than those supported by the GBC.

The church also has close ties with Shorter College, which in 2003 changed its charter to allow trustees to elect their own successors, citing accreditation problems with the state convention exercising too much control over the college. The convention disputed the trustee vote, and the case is now before the Georgia Supreme Court.

Despite differences with Georgia Baptist leadership, the church had nothing but nice things to say about the state convention. “We wish the very best to all Georgia Baptists,” Snider said in a press release. “We may no longer belong to the same group, but we still pray that God will use them in witness and ministry.”

Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said in a statement to the Rome newspaper that he was aware that First Baptist and at least one other church had not agreed with decisions and directions of the GBC. “We wish them the very best in their new affiliation with the BGAV,” White said.

The BGAV’s constitution and bylaws do not restrict its member churches to Virginia, according to the Religious Herald, and the association has long included churches just across state lines in North Carolina and West Virginia.

Four years ago the BGAV clarified the policy to allow wider participation based on affinity rather than geography.

“We’re certainly not soliciting membership from churches outside Virginia,” John Upton, the BGAV’s executive director, told the Religious Herald. “But there’s no question that church affiliation by affinity rather than geography is an appealing option for many churches who are seeking the best resources to assist them in ministry.”

Another church from Georgia also considering switching to the BGAV is North Broad Baptist Church in Rome, which last year left Floyd Association after the group voted to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. The faith statement discourages women from serving as pastors, and the church is led by a husband-and-wife co-pastor team.

First Baptist Church in Dalton, Ga., is also considering a move. Last year a team from the church joined Virginia Baptists in a mission project in Brazil.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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