On April 6, Virginia Baptists approved a joint agreement made with a Baptist affiliated school in Danville that will end their historic relationship of 145 years.
The two Baptist organizations, Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) and Averett University (AU), have been in continuous dispute over biblical authority and interpretation of homosexuality for the past two years.
According to the Associated Baptist Press (ABP), the Feb. event of a gay pride week by a school-approved gay advocacy group prompted the latest discussion and the joint statement drafted by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board (VBMB) and Averett's leaders at a March 17 meeting.
"Gay pride week", sponsored by the Gay/Straight Alliance, have raised critical questions regarding the university's stance on homosexuality -- a lifestyle stated as unbiblical in a resolution adopted by the BGAV in 1993 -- now regarded as part of the state association's "core values."
"We take this action without bitterness or ill will but with a strong resolve," said BGAV executive director John Upton, an Averett graduate. "Our position has long been clear and decisive that homosexuality is a lifestyle that goes against Scripture and is contrary to stated Virginia Baptist core values."
The joint statement says, "because of our current differences, we now resolve to walk separate paths with blessings on one another, recognizing that these paths might join again at a future time."
ABP reports that the "separate paths" will generally mean dissolving a covenant approved last year between the BGAV and Averett and ending the BGAV's long practice of nominating a portion of Averett's trustees.
Last year, in response to an earlier disagreement over homosexuality, the BGAV made a reallocation of its annual funds to Averett to a new theological education initiative, the Southwest Virginia Christian Leadership Network. The joint statement stipulates that its responsibility, originally to be jointly administered by Averett and the Mission Board, will be assumed solely by the BGAV.
Averett president Richard Pfau told the Roanoke Times on April 7, "What we've recognized is that the [BGAV] has a set of core values and there's no reason why they should compromise those. Likewise, Averett has a set of core values," about academic inquiry, for instance, "and unfortunately at this point in time, they're not compatible."
The national debate over sexuality left both university and Baptist leaders with "a sense that we're caught up in something none of us have figured out how to resolve," Pfau told the Roanoke paper.
Back in 2003, the schools chair of religion department wrote an article published in a Danville newspaper endorsing the ordination of an openly gay Episcopal bishop. At about the same time, John Shelby Spong, a controversial retired Episcopal bishop, delivered two lectures on campus, where he reportedly said that the God revealed in a literal reading of the Bible is "immoral" and "unbelievable."
Averett's trustees are set to consider the statement at their regular meeting April 15.
Averett and BGAV have ties that go back to the founding of the school in 1859.