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The Open Door

 

My observations over the past thirteen years have caused me to conclude the following. This is a wonderful family of Baptists who love one another and who love the Lord and His church. We are a people who are on mission for Christ, spanning the globe with over 10,000 missionary families and 160,000 volunteers on mission from Georgia Baptist churches every year.

We daily proclaim the Good News that eternal salvation is available to all who call upon Jesus Christ and trust in Him alone for salvation. We are a people who believe the Bible. We study God's Word with great energy and yearn for understanding. In our study of the Bible, however, we do not question its truth, its Author, its authority or its counsel for every sincere seeker of truth.

Georgia Baptists are a people who desire fellowship and unity. We want to go together on our journey this side of heaven. We like the word "cooperation" and strongly urge all of our churches to cooperate in Kingdom missions and ministry. We believe in the value of the Cooperative Program as the means through which we address our Acts 1:8 responsibility to reach Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.

We are a people of deep convictions based upon the Word of God. We are patient, but not hesitant to express our displeasure over matters that are in conflict with our understanding of God's Word. All of these characteristics came to bear at the annual meeting in Columbus when Georgia Baptists voted to discontinue our relationship with Mercer University. It was a decision that was born of deep conviction, not of anger.

It was not a matter of governance as some suggest. Though the different trustee election process has been a concern for years, we have lived with it, and would have lived with it still. I sense not one ounce of desire among us to control the university as some have suggested. We believe, and have a long history demonstrating our belief, that the institutions should have quality trustees and those trustees should be fully responsible for governing the institution.

What happened in Columbus has been building for decades, but clearly, there has been an accelerated departure from the conservative theological and doctrinal roots of our Convention in the immediate past decade. It is true, I believe, that our Convention has become more conservative, but I believe it is equally true that Mercer has become more liberal. This has created a widening schism that split the relationship like a log split with a sledgehammer and wedge.

The "Coming Out Day" for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons held on the campus at Mercer was as out of place on a Baptist University campus as anything could possibly be. There is no hatred for homosexual persons among Georgia Baptists. I believe that Georgia Baptists are the most loving people I have ever known, but there is a strong rejection of encouragement and even celebration of sin.

Yes, it's true; we are all sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. We are not judging others when we recognize sin as sin. Sin is easily identified and should never be applauded, encouraged or celebrated by the Christian. Georgia Baptists would be equally troubled if Mercer had allowed a "Coming Out Day" for heterosexual adulterers.

I have heard the argument that we allow heterosexual sin in the church and look the other way. I sincerely hope not! I know that as a pastor there were times when I had to remove people from positions of leadership for adultery, drug abuse and even embezzlement, but when it was known, it was dealt with. Church discipline, though painful, is appropriate in such circumstances.

The "no confidence" vote of the Convention in consideration of the relationship with Mercer University was very painful and will continue to be painful. The decision has been contemplated for a long time. The immediate catalyst was the Mercer Triangle Symposium. It was the final sledgehammer blow that split the log wide open.

What now? The decision has been made by the Convention to discontinue the relationship with Mercer University. A second vote at next year's Convention is required by the Constitution of the Convention unless there can be agreement between the Executive Committee of the Convention and the Board of Trustees of Mercer University. If there is agreement, the matter may be settled prior to next year's Convention meeting.

Please pray for Dr. Godsey and me as we meet together to plan for an orderly discontinuance of the relationship.