Reps of 18 Atlanta-area churches weigh steps toward new association
ATLANTA (BP)--An ad hoc group of concerned Atlanta Baptists took initial steps to form a new Baptist association within the metro Atlanta area Feb. 22. The move was in reaction to a controversial vote in January by the Atlanta Baptist Association to retain two member churches that allow homosexuals to have leadership positions within their congregations.
Approximately 50 persons attended the well-organized meeting at Pine Lake Baptist Church in Stone Mountain. Georgia Baptist parliamentarian Lester Cooper explained the process for forming a new Baptist association and answered procedural questions from the assembly.
Approximately 18 Atlanta-area churches were represented. Cooper explained that in order for a new association to be accepted into the Georgia Baptist Convention it would need to have a minimum of 15 churches.
Following the Atlanta Baptist Association's called meeting Jan. 30, a statement was issued from the association that the vote was based on the issue of local church autonomy. At the Feb. 22 meeting, speakers insisted that the issue was sodomy and whether the Atlanta Baptist Association is going to condone sinful practices.
Some of the participants were hopeful that the position of the Atlanta Association might be reversed. Sam Boyd, pastor of Mt. Vernon Church in Atlanta, has given notice that he will submit an amendment to the association's bylaws on membership at the annual associational meeting scheduled March 12.
That amendment would state that "an affiliated church does not include a church which knowingly takes, or has taken, any action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior."
Some speakers indicated they were not optimistic about reversing the Atlanta association's position since it would require a two-thirds majority to change the bylaws. But even if the motion did pass, there were deeper concerns with the present leadership of the association. Several of the gathered churches at Pine Lake appeared already committed to the idea of starting something new.
J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and other convention staff members and leaders were present as observers at the meeting. After the recent decision of the association to retain the two churches in question, Oakhurst and Virginia-Highland, the Georgia Baptist Convention administration committee took action to recommend to the GBC executive committee that all funding to the Atlanta Baptist Association be cut.
White was asked to speak and he talked about his grief over this issue. "The convention will relate to churches and associations that are biblically sound," White said. "If Atlanta Association says, 'We erred,' and they correct that decision, that will put us [the convention] in a position of working with the association."
At the Pine Lake meeting a resolution was unanimously adopted by those present that sets in motion the process for a new association. Since most of the individuals present did not have authority to speak on behalf of their churches, a future meeting will be held after local congregations have voted whether to join the new association.
Tim Clark, pastor of Pine Lake Baptist Church, was elected moderator pro tem and volunteers were solicited to form an executive planning committee for the new group that is tentatively being called the Metro Atlanta Baptist Association. Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker, which has already withdrawn from the Atlanta association, agreed to host the next meeting at a date to be announced. The newly formed planning committee will develop bylaws to be adopted at that next meeting, after which charter churches will be admitted into membership and officers elected.
The March 12 Atlanta association meeting will be held at Hapeville First Baptist Church. The vote on the bylaws change will likely be the determining factor in how many churches will choose to join the new Metro Atlanta Baptist Association. It also will likely affect a decision to be made the next day when the Georgia Baptist Convention executive committee meets and considers the recommendation to cut funding to the Atlanta association.