The Georgia Baptist Convention has cut ties with the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., — ending its 148-year-old relationship — over the congregation's 2007 vote to hire a woman as senior pastor, according to the Associated Baptist Press. The 2,700-member church is one of several historic congregations in what is now metropolitan Atlanta and one of the largest and most prominent churches traditionally affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention to be led by a woman pastor.
Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell read a letter at the end of both worship services Nov. 15 from Robert White, executive director of the 1.3 million-member state convention. It informed her that messengers to the group's recent annual meeting took action to declare them "not a cooperating church" because "a woman is serving as senior pastor." White said funds received from the First Baptist Church of Decatur during 2009 will be returned.
"Obviously, the severing of a relationship after so many years is unfortunate and gives the world-at-large another reason to conclude that Baptists care more about putting people out than gathering them in," Pennington-Russell said in an e-mail Nov. 16. "At the same time, I don't think this came as a surprise to many in our congregation and, to be honest, having a Southern Baptist affiliation has not been especially helpful when it comes to connecting with our largely unchurched community."
Last year, the Georgia Baptist Convention changed policies to decline funds sent by churches "not in cooperation and harmony with the approved work and purpose" of the convention, largely "as a result of questions raised regarding First Baptist Church of Decatur" and their female senior pastor, said convention leaders.