Last year at about this time, the Southern Baptist Convention was in the midst of voting on a resolution condemning the alt-right. This year, the SBC’s executive committee kicked off the annual convention by disfellowshipping Raleigh White Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia.
In a statement, the 80-member executive committee said that Raleigh White Baptist Church “does not presently meet the definition of a cooperating church under Article III [of the SBC Constitution] and that messengers from the church should not be seated at meetings of the Convention until such time as the church declares repentance for its actions and takes appropriate steps to restore its fellowship with the Convention.”
Earlier this spring, the church had been disfellowshipped by Mallary Baptist Association, an association of just over 50 churches within a three-county area. At issue was the church’s treatment of New Seasons Church of Albany, an African-American congregation.
The now-retired pastor of Raleigh White Baptist Church, Ronnie Kinsaul, had invited New Seasons to share the church’s space in 2015. Due to a shrinking and aging membership, Kinsaul believed that it would help to financially sustain Raleigh White while meeting a need for New Seasons.
At first, the arrangement went well, but tensions quickly crept in as New Seasons grew. According to the Christian Index, Marcus Glass, pastor of New Seasons, “noticed a cooling of the relationship within six months of being allowed to share Raleigh White’s facilities.”
As the congregation added members, it began to use more of the church’s facilities … the gym with the basketball court, fellowship hall, Sunday School rooms …
Sources say a number of Raleigh White’s members eventually no longer shared their pastor’s vision of the future. Disagreements became common but were papered over with superficial complaints such as saying New Seasons members did not return dinner plates to their proper storage location on kitchen shelves. The specter of racism was there, but hard to pin down.
After Pastor Kinsaul retired, the relationship between the two churches disintegrated even more. On the day of Raleigh White’s annual homecoming, some of New Seasons’ members, unaware of their church’s schedule change due to Raleigh White’s festivities, showed up early, only to be turned away.
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. He was likewise turned away.
This is when the Mallory Baptist Association stepped in and attempted to mediate. At a meeting, deacons of Raleigh White were informed of the Association’s plan to disfellowship their church unless they repented and sought reconciliation with New Seasons. Christian Index reports that “the meeting did not go well.”
Speaking to Baptist Press, the outgoing chairman of the executive committee, Stephen Rummage, said, “Southern Baptists are not only on record but strongly committed to standing against racism and prejudice. And if a church stands for racism and prejudice, then they do not stand with us, and we do not stand with them.”
This is the first time that the Southern Baptist Convention has disfellowshipped a church for racism.