The Georgia Baptist Convention recently changed its policy on receiving monetary gifts to allow it to refuse funds from churches that were "not in cooperation and harmony" with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Leaders of the Georgia Baptist Convention have thus far rejected the funds of one member church, First Baptist Church of Decatur, which appointed a woman as senior pastor last year.
In a report from the administrative committee recommending the change, it said the proposal was "a result of questions raised regarding First Baptist Church of Decatur, who has a woman as senior pastor," according to the Associated Baptist Press.
FBC appointed Julie Pennington-Russell, who had previously served at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, for nearly 10 years, after a "slow communal process of discernment" for months in 2007, according to Dr. David Gushee, a member of the congregation in a column posted on ABP.
Pennington-Russell, in her reflection on the new policy at the convention, said, "I kept waiting for someone from the Georgia Baptist Convention to call us or come visit with me and other leaders of our church to inform us that these matters were being discussed," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an e-mail.
She was out of town at the time and did not attend the convention.
"I assumed that a 146-year relationship was worth, at very least, a personal conversation," she added.
First Baptist Church has been connected with the Georgia Baptist Convention for 146 years. It is also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate breakaway group.
"To me, the saddest ripple effect will be that some members of our church who have faithfully supported Southern Baptist ministries and missionaries through the years, often with money given from their monthly Social Security checks, will have to be told that the [convention] doesn't welcome their support any longer."
The state convention will here on check sources to see if churches adhere to the 2000 Baptist Faith & Messages, which is the Southern Baptist Convention's confessional document.
A statement in this document reads, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
GBC executive director Robert White told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the new financial policy does not apply to churches with women deacons or female members that serve in ministerial positions other than pastor. But the convention would refuse gifts from questionable sources, such as alcohol distributors.
"It is more than a little insulting for other Georgia Baptists, and the GBC itself, to decide that this autonomous congregation made such a bad decision that our missions money is now tainted," wrote Gushee, who is a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, in his column.
"This puts FBC Decatur in company with … other 'gifts from questionable sources, such as alcohol distributors,'" he added, referencing the Journal-Constitution article.
According to the 2007 Annual Church Profile by LifeWay Christian Resources, First Baptist Church of Decatur has a primary worship attendance of 483, received a total of $1,207,765 last year, and gave $10,444 to the Cooperative Program.
In total, it has a reported membership of 2,700.
During its annual meeting Nov. 9-11, the Georgia Baptist Convention reported a deficit of some $3 million in its 2008 Cooperative Program budget.