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Ga. Baptists Target Homosexuality

November 18, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) _ Georgia’s Southern Baptists, protesting the idea of same-sex marriages in their churches, have chosen to exclude congregations that endorse homosexuality.

``It’s a shame as Georgia Baptists that we have to hear of people performing same-sex marriages (in Baptist churches),″ said the Rev. Frank Page, pastor at Warren Baptist in Augusta.

The vote came Tuesday as more than 2,400 representatives from churches around the state attended the Georgia Baptist Convention meeting. There are more than 1 million Southern Baptists in Georgia, second only to Texas.

A very small number of Baptist churches in Georgia endorse homosexuality, said the Rev. J. Robert White, executive director of the convention.

The Rev. J. Gerald Harris, who was named the convention’s new president, said Southern Baptists welcome homosexual individuals, but can’t allow churches to advocate their behavior.

``The unanimous verdict of scripture is that practicing homosexuality is a sin,″ said Harris, of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta. ``Love ... must not compromise the church’s allegiance to scripture.″

The homosexuality provision says that churches should not knowingly take any action to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior. It was passed overwhelmingly with more than two-thirds of the vote.

Several representatives spoke against the measure.

``To speak on this very issue is perilous,″ said Bill Self of John’s Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta. ``I want to ask one simple question. This year, the homosexuals. Who’s next, churches that receive African-Americans? Churches that allow women in the ministry?″

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday, the Florida Baptist Convention elected a black pastor as its leader for the first time in its 137-year history.

The Rev. Elroy Barber, 53, of the West Side Baptist Church in Hollywood said his election was a step toward what Southern Baptists discussed three years ago.

In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution on racial reconciliation. The denomination apologized for Southern Baptists’ failure to oppose slavery before the Civil War and for its shortcomings in working against racism.

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