By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
WTVF (Channel 5 in Nashville) reported on Oct. 15 that Greater Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg has been “kicked out” of the Lawrence County Association of Baptists.
While that sounds good on a newscast and immediately draws the attention of viewers, “kicked out” is not the proper term in this case.
I have umpired baseball for more than 30 years and there are probably a handful who would say that I threw them out of or kicked them out of a baseball game. I look at it this way. I have never kicked anyone out of a game. The actions of some coaches and players have led me to inform them that they could no longer participate in the game. In essence, they “kicked” themselves out of the game because of what they did or said.
That’s the case with Greater Tabernacle, an African-American congregation which has been a member of the Lawrence County association for more than 20 years. When they joined they were granted membership based on the condition that they are in agreement with the association’s understanding of biblical doctrine.
Mike Kemper, director of missions for Lawrence County, tells me that the church recently called a woman (who happens to be a non-Baptist) despite several conversations with church leaders. This of course is in direct conflict with the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message which serves as a foundational doctrinal guide for the association.
In those talks, the leaders were reminded of the consequences of their actions should they call a woman to lead the church. The consequences included being expelled from the association and even losing the church building because of a reversion clause in the deed that gives the property to the association should it cease to be a member of the association and a Southern Baptist church. See Baptist and Reflector story.
Despite the cautions, church leaders chose to call Shonda Reynolds-Christian as pastor. As a result, members of the association voted overwhelmingly at their association meeting on Oct. 12 to withdraw membership to Greater Tabernacle.
In reality, the association did not “kick out” anyone. The church basically “kicked” itself out.
Let me be clear. Greater Tabernacle had every right to call whomever they wanted as pastor. It’s called local church autonomy. No one is disputing that. By the same token, associations can extend and withdraw fellowship as they see fit.
I have known Mike Kemper for years. He is a man of integrity and compassion. I have no doubt he did everything possible to keep the church in the association.
As you listen to the news account or read other accounts that may be written, remember there are two sides to every story and that actions really do have consequences.