Churches affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina will no longer be allowed to support a rival Baptist group through their annual gifts to the convention, Baptist delegates to the state meeting decided this week.
The move represents an end to an era of cooperation. For years, the state convention allowed Baptists to fund various ministries across the nation and the world. It might lead to an exodus of more moderate Baptist churches.
In a motion approved at the convention's annual meeting, delegates, who are called “messengers,” approved a giving plan for the 2010 budget year that excludes donations to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The fellowship is an Atlanta-based collective of churches that generally adhere to more moderate doctrines.
The Baptist State Convention – an affiliate of the national Southern Baptist Convention – has been adopting policies that follow a larger conservative agenda laid out by the parent denomination. The state convention voted several years ago to expel churches that welcome gays and lesbians. Recently, it also severed its financial obligations to five Baptist colleges and universities.
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But the state convention had given churches multiple options for supporting ministries – including those that were more moderate – through a single funding mechanism.
Like a parent dividing an estate among a number of beneficiaries, churches in the convention had been allowed to choose from a list of groups they want to support with their gifts to the convention. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was one of the beneficiaries on the convention's list. But messengers said Wednesday they no longer wanted to serve as a conduit of donations to ministries with different theological convictions, and voted 431 to 354 to eliminate the fellowship from the list.
“It's time for us to put an end to the tolerance,” said the Rev. Eric Page, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Columbus. “We can't give them a foothold into what we're against.”
The Baptist State Convention is the largest religious group in North Carolina, with about 3,228 affiliated churches. Of those, 267 have chosen to split their giving among multiple groups. About 160 of those churches apportion 10 percent of their giving toward the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The convention isn't kicking out churches that support the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. But it will no longer be a conduit for money donated to that group.
But some more moderate churches saw it as yet another sign that they were no longer welcome.
“Churches associated with CBF are being told unequivocally they don't need to come,” said the Rev. Don Gordon, pastor of Yates Baptist Church in Durham. “CBF churches had already been treated as second-class citizens. Now they're treated as non-citizens.”
Moderate Baptist churches, which support female pastors and do not believe the Bible is inerrant, have been distancing themselves from the state convention in past years.