Disagreement over the hiring of two married lesbian co-pastors by a Washington, D.C. congregation has led to the severing of the relationship between the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC).
The historic Calvary Baptist Church announced a unanimous vote calling Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen as co-pastors in January of 2017. A theologically progressive and activist congregation, Calvary officially severed its connection to the SBC in 2012, claiming that foundational distinctives of the larger body had been lost.
But Calvary, which affiliates with multiple regional and national Baptist organizations, remained connected to the local DCBC, which by extension was connected to the wider SBC. That led the SBC Executive Committee (EC) to give the DCBC 90 days to dismiss from its fellowship churches that affirm homosexual behavior.
Baptist churches operate with a congregational polity and cannot be directly compelled into compliance by a denomination hierarchy, but their relational fellowship with other churches can be jeopardized.
David Roach at Baptist Press has more:
At its Feb. 19-20 meeting in Nashville, the EC adopted a recommendation granting the DCBC 90 days to “secure” the “removal of any churches from its fellowship that have demonstrated a faith or practice affirming, approving or endorsing homosexual behavior.” If such churches remained in friendly cooperation with the DCBC after May 20, the EC stated, the DCBC would lose its authorization “to receive and disburse Cooperative Program and other SBC contributions.”
It remains to be seen how much effect the move will have on congregations. Currently 153 congregations affiliate with the DCBC, but according to SBC interim Executive Committee President D. August Boto, only eight DC churches support SBC work through financial gifts directed through the DCBC. Numerous other SBC-affiliated churches within the District of Columbia are likewise not affiliated with the DCBC.
Calvary Baptist Church has a relatively small congregation, claiming fewer than 300 active members. The church has hosted liberal events for some time, especially regarding sexuality.
In addition to hosting the Human Rights Campaign’s Clergy Call gathering — which brings LGBT-affirming clergy to the nation’s capital to lobby lawmakers — Calvary made news by naming transgender pastor Allyson Robinson as an interim leader following the departure of Senior Pastor Amy Butler to lead Riverside Church in New York City. Differences between Calvary and the SBC go beyond human sexuality: Sarratt previously served as a part-time associate minister at a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Greenville, South Carolina. The church has also hosted organizations uniquely critical of Israel.