Tenn. Baptist Convention, Congregation Part Ways Over Female Senior Pastor

First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Tennessee | (Photo: First Baptist Church in Jefferson City)

A congregation that once had ties with the Tennessee Baptist Convention is no longer part of the regional Southern Baptist body due to the church's decision to have a female senior pastor.

The state convention voted on a resolution Tuesday morning to not seat the messengers for First Baptist Church of Jefferson City, acting upon a recommendation of their Committee on Credentials.

FBC Jefferson City provided The Christian Post with a statement on the matter, in which the 747-member church said they were "not surprised" by the resolution.

"Our congregation's long-held conviction that God calls all people into service regardless of gender has not always been received well, even by some brothers and sisters in Christ," stated FBC.

"We have been heartened, however, by a tremendous outpouring of support we have received from Christians, both Baptist and non-Baptist, from Tennessee and around the country in recent weeks."

The office building of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, located in Franklin, Tennessee. | (Photo: TBMB/Royce Degrie)

FBC also stated that the debate was "not a matter of one group of Baptists believing the Bible and another disregarding it" but rather "a difference in Biblical interpretation."

Earlier this year, FBC hired Ellen Di Giosia to be its senior pastor, which violates the Southern Baptist Convention's rules that only men can serve as pastors.

The largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the SBC abides by the Baptist Faith and Message, which in Article VI states that "while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

Chris Turner, communications director for the TBC's Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, told CP that "our churches are committed to the collectively held belief that the role of Sr. Pastor is defined by Scripture as being reserved for a male."

"The church chose to take an action contrary to the direction of the overwhelming majority if its sister churches. You could say the church pulled away from the convention," said Turner.

"It is probably that FBC's pastor came with the intention of serving the church for years to come. If that is the case, I don't see the situation changing with messengers, given how overwhelming the vote was yesterday."

Noting that "the future really depends on the church at this point," Turner also told CP that he took issue with describing the parting of ways between the convention and FBC as a "split."

"Calling it a split is a pretty strong word that seems to connote acrimony. This action yesterday was far from acrimonious. Both the church and the messengers to the convention conducted themselves with great decorum," noted Turner.

With the departure of FBC, the convention still has approximately 3,200 congregations associated with it, the largest believed to be Bellevue Baptist of Memphis at about 15,000 members.

While its ties with Southern Baptist bodies have been severed, FBC remains affiliated with the more theologically moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, according to its website.

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