An ex-Southern Baptist church in rural Kentucky will host same-sex wedding ceremonies despite gay marriage being illegal in the state.
Deacons at Louisville's Highland Baptist Church recently voted to marry same-sex couples who are members of the church. However, senior Pastor Joe Phelps says the decision was made without the vote of the congregation.
"Part of the mission of Deacons at Highland Baptist Church is discernment, where an elected body of members serves as a voice for the congregation and sounding board for the staﬀ on issues important to the life of the church. It was in this role that the Deacons voted to approve the request instead of taking the issue to the church for a vote. This is within their rights and responsibilities as elected leaders within the life of the church," Phelps told The Christian Post in a written statement.
The decision was announced through the church's online newsletter in which the board of deacons said they have also elected gay and lesbian individuals to serve as deacons and have welcomed gay members as teachers and leaders throughout the congregation. Furthermore, they also noted that they have performed dedication ceremonies for babies of same sex couples.
The church left the Southern Baptist Convention years ago, to join the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, known for being moderately liberal compared to the SBC.
While the church chooses to aﬃliate with CBF, Phelps notes that the decisions made by the congregation are "locally autonomous and are a matter of this church's particular interpretation of the Bible and the church's doctrine."
Although the decision suggests that Highland is the first Baptist church to perform same-sex marriages, it is not the first Christian congregation in Kentucky to do so, according to Phelps. Crescent Hill Baptist Church made the same decision in 2013.
Currently, Kentucky has a gay marriage ban which a federal appeals court has yet to weigh in on and Phelps says he recognizes that the church and state have differences and obligations regarding the sanctity of marriage.
"…There are state rights and obligations that flow from the execution of a civil marriage license, flowing from state laws as opposed to the church. As a church, we have no say in this aspect of marriage," Phelps said.
He added, "On the other hand, there are vows and sacred rituals in marriages that we do handle as a church, including the sacred oaths made within a couple and between the couple and God. It is this sacred ritual within the life of the church that the Deacons speak about when making this decision."
A congregation meeting is set for Sunday, June 8 to discuss the decision further.