A Baptist association in South Carolina averted a public battle over gay marriage when its executive committee reversed an earlier recommendation to remove a church whose pastor created controversy by testifying before legislators opposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

According to news reports, Robert Shrum, pastor of Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill, S.C., told a Senate committee March 31 the state should not amend its Constitution, because South Carolina already bans gay marriage and adding an amendment would unnecessarily beat up on homosexuals.

“Do not use the Constitution of our beloved state to marginalize a segment of our citizenry,” Shrum said in a transcript of his formal statement in the Rock Hill Herald.

During questioning after his testimony, Shrum told EthicsDaily.com, one of the senators asked if he had any homosexuals in his church. Shrum said yes, and the senator wanted to know what kind of special ministry they had to homosexuals. Shrum said he replied: “None, they participate in the life of the church as anyone else would.”

York Baptist Association then launched an investigation of the church after two unnamed pastors accused Shrum of making unbiblical statements.

An administrative support committee listened to a recording of the Senate hearing, finding the remarks “controversial” but not contrary to the “authority or teaching of the Bible.”

As part of the process, Shrum and deacons sent a letter stating the church “does not condone homosexuality, adultery, murder, gossip, slander or any other of a number of enumerated sins referred to in the Holy Scriptures.”

The committee said the matter should be closed and recommended no action against the church.

The association’s executive committee, however, said it had additional questions and asked Shrum for a meeting. He replied the deacons had already answered every question asked by the association and declined.

On Aug. 4, the executive committee voted to recommend the church’s removal at the association’s annual meeting in October, citing the church’s refusal for further dialogue.

A newspaper report indicated that the church had offered to leave the association because of the controversy, but Shrum said it was not an official offer, but only a suggestion by the deacon chair about alternatives should the associational leadership not accept the congregation’s explanation of “how we do church.”

Later, however, Oakland’s deacons asked for more discussion, leading to a series of conversations.

The Herald reported Monday that statements including that the church does not perform same-sex marriages or approve of any “unbiblical” lifestyle, prompted the executive committee to reverse its earlier decision and to keep the church in the fold.

“We’re glad to have it behind us,” Steve Hogg, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rock Hill, told the newspaper.

Shrum sent the newspaper an e-mail saying the association’s move to reverse its earlier decision was “an appropriate action.”

“Oakland Baptist Church does not need to be defended in the face of anyone’s allegations,” Shrum said. “Our history and record of embodying the Spirit of Christ in this community is long and transparent for anyone to see. We are glad the York Baptist Association has acknowledged that by rescinding their previous action.”

The association’s annual meeting took place Oct. 20. Mike O’Dell, the association’s director of missions, did not respond to an e-mail from EthicsDaily.com asking about the status of the recommendation to remove Oakland Baptist Church from membership.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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