Pastor Julie Pennington-Russell told me she found a FedEx package from the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) when she arrived at the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., yesterday. It contained a letter from GBC Executive Director J. Robert White, the mouthpiece of the fundamentalist-controlled network of churches, informing her that the congregation’s relationship with the convention has been terminated.

She read the letter to the Decatur congregation at the conclusion of both morning services. She noted that her doctoral work is not yet complete, but she appreciates the confidence.

The letter read:

Dear Dr. Pennington-Russell-

The following recommendation from the Executive committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention was approved by messengers of the Georgia Baptist Convention in annual Session on November 10, 2009:

“That First Baptist Church of Decatur is not a cooperating church as defined in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution because a woman is serving as senior pastor and that First Baptist Church of Decatur be excluded from the convention and all rights and privileges thereof.”

As indicated in my letter of November 2, 2009, funds received by the Convention from First Baptist Church of Decatur during 2009 will be returned.

I would be remiss if I did not say on behalf of the Convention how grateful we have been across many years of partnership with First Baptist of Decatur for our service and ministry together. You and the church family are in my thoughts and prayers today as you move forward to continue your ministry in the name of the Lord. We recognize and appreciate the faithfulness of First Baptist Church of Decatur throughout the years.

Sincerely,

J. Robert White

No, White and other GBC leaders are remiss in their profound failure to understand and appreciate the long-held Baptist principle of local church autonomy and the long-term consequences of their onward march toward irrelevance.

The Decatur church is doing just fine — perhaps better — outside the unhealthy relationship with such a systemically ill organization. One could only hope that more congregations could make that discovery on their own.

Bob’s comment that the Decatur congregation — that considers Julie’s call a clear leading of the Spirit — is “excluded from the convention and all rights and privileges thereof” reveals just how the Boy’s Clubhouse continues to misunderstand the very reason for the convention’s existence.

The purpose of such Baptist organizations is to provide a means by which congregations can work together effectively in missions and ministry. It is about cooperation, not who has “rights and privileges.”

Well, it should be.

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