North Carolina Baptists expel church for accepting gay members

Posted: Friday, October 10, 2003

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has expelled McGill Baptist Church for accepting two gay men as members and later baptizing them.

It is the first time the convention has expelled a church simply for having openly gay members. The association had previously expelled churches that ordained gays or blessed their relationships.

''By having openly gay members, the church sanctions or approves of homosexuality,'' James Royston, executive director of the state convention. ''The traditional interpretation of Scripture would call an openly gay lifestyle unbiblical and therefore un-Christian.''

The Rev. Steve Ayers, of McGill Baptist in Concord, said his congregation never asked the men if they were gay.

The congregation never discussed the issue of homosexuality and did not go through a process of declaring itself ''open and affirming'' to gays and lesbians as some other churches have, Ayers said.

''In our tradition, we open the church doors to everyone who comes to know Christ,'' Ayers said. ''Jesus told us to fish for people. He didn't say to use fishhooks, but nets. It's not our job to sort the fish. He'll take care of any sorting.''

The Baptist State Convention is affiliated with the national Southern Baptist Convention and represents nearly 4,000 North Carolina churches. In 1992, it enacted a policy that forbids churches from showing ''public approval, promotion or blessing of homosexuality.''

Expelling a church is mostly symbolic because affiliation with the state and national convention is voluntary. Members of the conventions pool resources and work together on evangelism.

The two men, who declined to be interviewed or identified, are regular worshippers and sing in the choir.

''They were not out to make a statement,'' said Wanda Ritchie, a deacon in the church.

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