On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, a Baptist association in Georgia held a historic vote to expel a longtime member church because of the alleged racist attitudes and actions of its members.
On Tuesday, the 53-church Mallory Baptist Association's Executive Committee held a special meeting to address accusations of "unChristian attitudes" and "racially motivated" acts allegedly committed by members of Raleigh White Baptist Church in Albany.
The committee voted to strip the church, which has been a member of the association since the 1940s, of its membership.
"The reason for this action involved the church's un-Christian attitudes and acts toward another associational church," a statement from the executive committee states. "These attitudes and acts were racially motivated. Thus they do not reflect the values and mission of the Mallary Baptist Association."
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board, which oversees 92 associations including Mallory Baptist, reports that the vote marks the first known instance in Southern Baptist Convention history where a church has been removed from fellowship over racism allegations.
"The Raleigh White Baptist Church, which had opened its doors to the New Seasons Church, an African-American Georgia Baptist church plant, became contentious and abusive to the growing African-American congregation, which in the last two years, under the leadership of their Pastor Marcus Glass, has baptized 178 new believers," the statement from the GBMB reads.
The executive committee's decision was made after about two years of intervention by the association and GBMB between Raleigh White Baptist and New Seasons Church, Baptist Press notes.
According to the official SBC outlet, Raleigh White Baptist Pastor Ronnie Kinsaul, who retired last December, agreed in 2015 to allow the predominantly black New Seasons Church plant to use the church's building to worship.
But as the predominantly white congregation at Raleigh White continued to shrink to reportedly as low as 20 members, New Seasons grew to over 130 members and began to use more of the church's space and resources.
The official publication of the Georgia Baptist Convention reports that tensions grew between members of Raleigh White and New Seasons and many Raleigh White members did not share the same vision for housing the church plant that Kinsaul had.
Things reached a boiling point in March when Raleigh White held its annual homecoming service and allegedly disinvited New Seasons members.
According to Christian Index, leaders at Raleigh White Baptist gave 30-days' notice to New Seasons that they would need to start their Sunday services on March 18 at 2:30 p.m. instead of 11 a.m. to accommodate for the homecoming. Yet, Glass lobbied and got the start time pushed to 12:30 p.m. for that day.
"The problem came to a head on the day of the homecoming when visitors, unaware of the change, showed up early for the worship service and were turned away at the doors of the church," Christian Index reports. "A daughter of one of the visitors asked to use the restroom and was told she could use the convenience store down the road. It was suggested to other visitors that they remain in their cars until their service began."
"One pastor, whose wife had passed away, showed up early to discuss his wife's funeral arrangements with Glass who was going to preside at her memorial service," the publication added. "He was likewise turned away."
In its statement, the mission board explained that the church was expelled only after attempts to mediate the situation had failed.
A meeting was held between representatives of the church and officials from the association and mission board on March 26. However, the meeting did not go well, GBMB Director of Missions Hans Wunch told Christian Index.
In its statement, the mission board explained that the SBC has passed 18 resolutions on racial reconciliation and racism through the years, while the Georgia Baptist Convention has passed five.
"It is very disappointing that some have apparently made no progress after 50 years," GBMB Executive Director J. Robert White said in a statement. "Jesus taught us to love one another. In John 15:17, Jesus said, 'This I command you, that you love one another.' There are no exceptions to Jesus' command. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board cannot and will not tolerate racism. It is incompatible with what we believe."
The Christian Post reached out to Raleigh White Baptist Church for comment. However, no one answered the phone Friday and a voice message was not returned before press time.
Kinsaul, who has not returned to the Raleigh White Baptist since his retirement, commented on the situation facing his former church in a statement provided to Christian Index.
"Knowing many of the men on the Administrative Team of the Mallary Baptist Association, I am sure that they made their decision after much prayer and consideration," Kinsaul said. "It is unfortunate that such action had to be taken. I have a great love for both Raleigh White and New Season's churches."
This week, New Seasons members have been busy packing up the church's possessions and moving them to the church's new temporary location at Mt. Zion Baptist Church about 20 miles away.
The decision to disfellowship Raleigh White Baptist comes as the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and The Gospel Coalition co-hosted the MLK50 Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, this week to honor King's legacy and discussing the state of racial relations in America and in the Church.
During the conference, ERLC President Russell Moore commented on the Bible Belt's own ties with racial injustice in America.
"And time and time again, in the white American Bible Belt, the people of God had to choose between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow, because you cannot serve both, and tragically, many often chose to serve Jim Crow and to rename him Jesus Christ," Moore said.