DALLAS (USA Today) — A Georgia church was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention on Monday over charges of racism.
The convention’s executive committee voted to withdraw fellowship from Raleigh White Baptist Church during its morning meeting in Dallas, said Roger S. Oldham, the committee’s spokesman.
The 80-plus member body, which acts on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention when it is not in session, followed the recommendation of its officers and severed the evangelical denomination’s relationship with the church for “clear evidence of the church’s intentional discriminatory acts.”
The small white congregation in Albany, Ga., has been accused of discriminating against a growing black congregation that shared its church building. Raleigh White Baptist did not respond Monday to the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee’s request for comment.
The executive committee made its decision ahead of the Southern Baptist Convention’s big denominational meeting that starts Tuesday at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. The Georgia church’s status is only one of several matters expected to be addressed this week.
As a result, representatives from Raleigh White Baptist can no longer participate in the convention until it repents and takes steps to restore fellowship.
The national entity’s decision is just the latest action against the church.
In Georgia, the Mallary Baptist Association, which includes more than 50 churches in Southwest Georgia, was the first to expel Raleigh White Baptist over their actions toward New Seasons Church.
“The reason for this action involved the church’s un-Christian attitudes and acts toward another associational church. These attitudes and acts were racially-motivated,” the association said in an April 4 statement. “Thus they do not reflect the values and mission of the Mallary Baptist Association.”
For about six months, Hans Wunch, director of missions for the Mallary Baptist Association, had tried to help mediate the relationship between Raleigh White and New Seasons. He brought in members of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board for assistance, too.
In June 2015, the declining white congregation initially welcomed New Seasons Church, a growing church plant led by Pastor Marcus Glass, to worship in its building, according to the Christian Index, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s newspaper.
But the relationship between the two congregations deteriorated as Raleigh White Baptist became less accommodating to those who belonged to New Seasons.
It all came to a head on March 18.
Raleigh White Baptist scheduled its homecoming event at the church during New Seasons’ worship time, according to the Christian Index. Unaware of the time change, black visitors showed up at New Season’s for worship at the regular time. They were told to wait in their vehicles and one visitor’s daughter was told to use the convenience store bathroom down the road.
“It was because of the color of their skin that they were turned away at the door,” Wunch said. “That was kind of the final straw.”
During an April 3 special meeting, the executive committee of the association voted unanimously to remove the church as a member and return Raleigh White Baptist’s 2018 financial donations to the association.
“We kept trying to say, ‘No, this isn’t racism. This is something else,'” Wunch said. “We desperately wanted it to be bad communication, but when all that went down, it’s like, we can’t ignore this.”
Raleigh White Baptist can be reinstated as a member of the association if they repent their sins against News Seasons and allow a mediator to help both churches biblically reconcile their relationship.
“We have not heard anything from them about that,” Wunch said. “We have no indication that they have any desire to do that.”
The Monday decision by the Southern Baptist Convention is the outcome Wunch wanted to see.
Last week, Wunch pointed out that it could be a significant decision given the Southern Baptist Convention’s pro-slavery roots and more recent racial reconciliation efforts.
“This is an extraordinary moment because the Southern Baptist Convention has talked about trying to heal race relations for quite some time, but this is tangible,” Wunch said.
New Seasons has since found a new home by merging with another church in the association that was drawing only about 15 people to Sunday services, Wunch said.
Another church in Albany had reached out to Wunch independent of the break-up between Raleigh White and New Seasons for advice on how to reach their neighborhood, which has been changing around them.
The association helped connect them. In late May, New Seasons announced it had merged with Radium Springs Baptist Church to create one multicultural congregation, according to a Facebook post.
“It’s been really neat how God worked all that out,” Wunch said.