ROANOKE, Va. – The Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) upheld a committee’s decision to end the state association’s affiliation with a church which ordained an openly gay man to the ministry earlier this fall.
Also at its Nov. 13-14 annual meeting in Roanoke, Va., with 785 registered messengers, the BGAV adopted without discussion or apparent opposition a 2013 budget which had sparked wide-ranging debate for a month.
The $12.1 million budget is $300,000 less than this year’s budget goal, the third consecutive annual budget reduction. When introduced by the BGAV budget committee Oct. 9, it won praise from some for what they said was greater support for evangelism, discipleship and new church starts. Others, however, expressed dismay at what they believed suggested a diminished role for BGAV entities other than the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
In response, the budget committee revised the proposal on Oct. 18, increasing allocations for some entities closer to 2012 levels, while retaining the overall budget goal.
Budget committee chair David Washburn of Waynesboro, Va., said the 2013 budget is “rooted in reality.”
“We are all in this together,” he said. “We value all partners and agencies and institutions. The decision [to reduce some allocations] did not come easily.”
If fully funded, the 2013 budget allocates $8,712,000 to BGAV ministries and $3,388,000 to world mission causes. But the amounts will depend, as they have for two decades, on which budget options churches select. Available to them are three pre-set giving tracks and a fourth customized option:
The World Missions 1 track provides 66 percent for Virginia ministries and 34 percent for Southern Baptist Convention ministries. Currently about 27 percent of churches choose that option.
The World Missions 2 track provides 72 percent for BGAV ministries and 28 percent for a combination of Virginia, SBC, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other ministries. Some 28 percent select WM2.
The World Missions 3 track provides 72 percent for Virginia ministries and 28 percent for CBF ministries. About 12 percent of churches choose that option.
A customized option permits churches to craft their own giving track, selecting ministries to be funded and the percentage division. About 33 percent of churches choose to do that.
For the first time, the budget includes a provision to engage in what the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) calls “shared ministries,” allowing the BGAV to fund projects which are affected by a change in strategy by the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB). That amount is about $480,000, or 5 percent of total BGAV contributions to NAMB.
In the opening session of the BGAV meeting, messengers voted 164-426 against a motion to refer to a study committee the request that Ginter Park Baptist Church in Richmond withdraw its membership.
In October, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s Executive Committee asked Ginter Park Baptist Church in Richmond to withdraw its BGAV membership by Dec. 31 after the congregation ordained an openly gay man in September.
The request stipulated that if Ginter Park declined to withdraw by that date, the BGAV would no longer accept its financial contributions – action which would essentially end the church’s affiliation with the state association.
At the BGAV meeting, Richmond pastor Jim Somerville said dismissal of a church was too significant to leave only to the BGAV Executive Committee.
“I believe the Executive Committee acted in accordance with BGAV principles, but this is a big decision and the Executive Committee shouldn’t make it alone,” said Somerville, pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond. He added he didn’t want to open a discussion about homosexuality or church autonomy on the floor of the BGAV.
Instead, he offered a motion to refer the action to a study committee to be appointed by the BGAV president, which would report at the 2013 annual BGAV meeting.
Mark Ross, pastor of Marion (Va.) Baptist Church, supported the motion because Christians have “been wrong about many things and many of us would not be here today or in our churches if we let the past determine our future.”
“Let’s look at what God would have us do, not in the past, but in the future,” he said.
But Travis Collins, pastor of Bon Air Baptist Church in Richmond, said, “The Executive Committee’s action is consistent with what we have done before…. It’s consistent with my understanding of scripture and probably with the understanding of the vast majority of Virginia Baptists.”
Don Davidson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., said few people would be persuaded by a year of study. Instead, it would be a year of “slow drift of being in the news and being discussed.”
“We are known as a moderate convention, though I’m on the conservative end of that,” Davidson said. “And I’m at home with that. But this [ordination] is a step too far.”
This is the first time the BGAV has dismissed a church over homosexuality, but it has addressed the issue in the past. A 1993 resolution called homosexual behavior “sinful and unacceptable to Christians” and that statement is typically included in the state association’s identity documents.
A report from the BGAV’s Christian life committee which drew the same conclusion was “commended to the churches” in 1998.
The BGAV’s ties to both the University of Richmond and Averett University were ended over homosexuality, though Averett’s association was restored last year when the school clarified its stance in a way the BGAV regarded as compatible with its position.
In an uncontested election, Richmond layman Carl Johnson was elected president – the first person since 1944 to hold the post twice. Johnson, a retired denominational financial officer, was president in 1987. For the past year, he had been serving as the BGAV’s first vice president.
Johnson, a member of First Baptist Church in Richmond who retired in 2000 as chief financial officer of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, succeeds Mark Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va.
Johnson was succeeded as first vice president by Tommy McDearis, pastor of Blacksburg (Va.) Baptist Church, who was elected 232-205 over Lee Ellison, pastor of Mount Hermon Baptist Church in Moseley, Va.
Also elected was Kevin Meadows, pastor of Grandin Court Baptist Church in Roanoke, as second vice president. Meadows was the only nominee for the position.
Fred Anderson, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, was elected to a 31st term as clerk.
Next year’s BGAV meeting is set for Nov. 12-13 in either Fredericksburg, Va., or Washington’s Northern Virginia suburbs.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robert Dilday is managing editor of the Religious Herald, newsjournal of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.)