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Expelled Southern Baptist Church Rethinks Statement on Homosexuality

June 15, 1992

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) _ Members of a church expelled by the Southern Baptist Convention have voted to rescind a statement on homosexuality it had issued when it licensed a gay divinity student.

But officials at Olin T. Binkley Memorial Baptist Church said Sunday’s move was meant only to correct a procedural error.

″This is not a response to the Southern Baptist Convention action at all,″ Pastor Linda Jordan said Sunday night after the 151-24 vote.

″That did not mean that we reject the statement,″ she said. ″There is much more discussion that needs to take place.″

The licensure prompted the Southern Baptist Convention last week to vote to expel the church. Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, 30 miles away, was expelled at the same time for blessing a homosexual union.

The statement rescinded Sunday night prefaced the congregation’s decision to license John Blevins, a Duke University divinity student. The statement, the first of its kind for a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, said a person’s sexual orientation should not be considered in the ordination process.

Some church members have complained that the approval of the statement violated procedural rules because of insufficient notice of the vote, a concern Sunday’s vote was meant to address, Ms. Jordan said.

Ms. Jordan said a church committee would continue to discuss homosexuality and would attempt to come up with a statement the congregation can agree upon.

The issue has sparked sharp debate among Southern Baptists and led to a flood of mail to a denomination newspapers.

R.G. Puckett, editor of the Biblical Recorder, said Monday the response on the issue has been steady since early this year.

″It’s an enormous stack,″ he said. ″I took over as editor 34 years ago in 1958. Nothing in that time has been equal to this. Not racial issues, not abortion. Nothing has been equal to this.″

Debates have come up at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, and the conservative view generally prevails, said Lewis Drummond, seminary president.

That has caused problems for Michael Hawn, a member of Pullen Memorial as well as a professor at the seminary. He said there were some subtle pressures once the church position became known.

″I have been told that a number of students boycotted a class that I’m teaching this summer because of that,″ he said.

Asked about the possibility of the denomination purging more churches for moderate stands on other issues, Drummond said: ″There’s always the possibility of that. However, I don’t think that is true. I think cooler heads will prevail and every single issue won’t become a basis of disenfranchising churches.″

Binkley Memorial has been in turmoil since the licensure. Seven of its 20 deacons have resigned.

But church members said that they hope to reconcile their differences.

″And we’re continuing to make some progress, hopefully, toward that,″ moderator Forrest Page said.

Some members said the vote was only pertinent from a local perspective.

″I think it’s very important for this church, but from a national and international point of view, I don’t think it has much significance,″ said Joe Buckwalter, an 18-year member.

″I personally feel it’s inappropriate. I don’t agree with much of what it included in the preface,″ he said.

Buckwalter said Binkley Memorial has faced controversy before and will survive.

″The vote was pretty close, so it means that there’s still a lot of people who feel disturbed on both sides,″ he said. ″I think there’s a general feeling that we hope that out of the meeting will be some degree of harmony restored to the church.″