First Baptist Church of Decatur, Georgia, Approves Openly Homosexual Deacon

First Baptist Church of Decatur
First Baptist Church of Decatur

A flagship Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregation in Atlanta voted Nov. 23 to approve a slate of deacons including an openly gay man in a committed, same-sex relationship.

The vote followed a three-week sermon series on the Bible and homosexuality by Senior Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell. In Part 1 delivered Nov. 9, she said the messages had “about a 35-year gestation period,” as she interacted with gay Christians at previous churches in California and Texas and since 2007 at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.

In the final installment Nov. 23, Pennington-Russell said over time she has come to believe that welcoming LGBT people into full inclusion and participation in congregational life “is simply a matter of the church being the church. No more. No less.”

Pennington-Russell said in an email interview that she hadn’t planned to address the topic until a nominating team presented a slate of new deacon candidates for 2015 in October. One of the nominees was Theron Stuart, research project coordinator at Emory’s School of Medicine and School of Public Health, who with his same-sex partner joined First Baptist about four years ago.

A former chaplain and Christian school administrator, Stuart has gotten involved at First Baptist through teaching Sunday Bible study, leading in worship, co-facilitating Bible study groups for men and counseling.

Pennington-Russell said she began praying about how to lead the church, which has welcomed gay members “mostly in a don’t-ask-don’t-tell kind of way” for many years, in thinking about the upcoming vote.

Pennington-Russell said there are “perhaps 40 LGBT folk at First Baptist,” including couples with children, and many have joined as members. She said there has been at least one gay deacon in the past, but she doesn’t believe his sexual orientation was widely known.

“Electing an openly gay believer in a covenant relationship with his partner would be a first for our church,” she said. “Since we were asking the congregation to discern how to respond, I decided to offer some ‘handles’ from the pulpit that people could reach for in their own discernment process.”

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Bob Allen

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