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An Associated Baptist Press report on the Feb. 22 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee brings somewhat surprising news: the committee voted not to establish a policy that would expel churches on the basis of their membership in the Alliance of Baptists alone. 

What is that all about? The SBC has gone out of its way on many occasions to condemn homosexuality, and has not hesitated to boot churches known to welcome and affirm gay members if someone made a case against them. The Alliance of Baptists has made clear statements favoring a “welcoming and affirming” stance. Does the Executive Committee’s decision reflect a change of heart?

I don’t think so. Convention motions referred to the Executive Committee routinely die there, and I suspect that members knew this one wasn’t really necessary. The SBC already has a rule allowing for the ouster of churches that “”act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior,” and used the rule two years ago to disfellowship Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth — but only after being challenged to do so.

At this past year’s meeting, a messenger from Oklahoma made a motion “to consider any church’s affiliation with the Alliance of Baptists to constitute an action which affirms, approves or endorses homosexual behavior.” It was referred to the Executive Committee, which declined to adopt it.  

Interestingly enough, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina‘s (BSCNC) Board of Directors, the equivalent of the SBC Executive Committee, does consider membership alone an act worthy of expulsion. In 2006, BSCNC messengers used the SBC language in amending the organization’s Articles & Bylaws to exclude churches that welcome and affirm gays and lesbians. The Board of Directors later approved a clarification that churches qualify for expulsion if they knowingly affiliate with, contribute money to or maintain membership in a group that “affirms, approves, endorses, promotes, supports or blesses homosexual behavior.”

Convention leaders then said, however, that they would not seek out churches to expel, even though a list of BSCNC churches affiliated with the Alliance was available and had been used the previous year to blacklist members of those churches and prevent them from serving on the boards of BSCNC agencies and institutions. 

It appears, then, that both the BSCNC and SBC are more interested in posturing themselves against the approval of homosexual behavior than they are in taking action against churches that affirm gay and lesbian persons. 

Does the lack of action result from a desire to continue receiving contributions from Alliance-related churches, a recognition that such action is really uncharitable, or perhaps an unconfessed awareness that it’s completely wrong to single out one perceived sin as a firing offense when others are ignored?

More likely, it’s the simple awareness that ousting churches is bad for public relations, and convention leaders know that they hardly need more bad PR. So I wouldn’t read too much into the SBC Executive Committee’s refusal to go along with the messenger’s motion: Convention rules already have plenty teeth — officials are just very hesitant to use them.  

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