In an open letter to the Richmond Baptist Association, Ginter Park Baptist pastor Mandy England Cole makes a plea for dialogue, and for working in unity despite theological differences. To catch you up briefly, Ginter Park recently ordained an openly gay man as a minister which sparked a bit of a controversy. The Baptist General Association of Virginia voted to disassociate with the church, but the Richmond Baptist Association narrowly voted to remain in association. Several dissenting member churches in the RBA either have left or are thinking about it.
What strikes me about this letter, and about the stance that GPBC has taken, is that it is not a plea for churches to get over their concerns over homosexuality. It is a plea for unity. The remarkable thing here is that GPBC has every right to feel hurt and rejected - and just as much reason as these conservative dissenters to wonder about the nature of their association. Their beliefs are as based in scripture, their actions as based on prayerful contemplation. It would be as difficult for them to work with those who reject their prayerful choices as it would be for the dissenting churches in the RBA to work with Ginter Park. This is a two way street.
But rather than leave, which, as Rev. Cole points out, would be simpler, they have chosen to reject the forces that pull us all apart, and instead focus on those that tie us together. Friendship, continued good work, history - these should not be given up lightly. The family of God should be free to disagree, just like any family. But like with any family, a complete sundering of ties is devastating, estrangement is heartbreaking.
I hope you will join me in praying for the whole Richmond Baptist Association - those that leave and those that stay alike. Whatever decisions each church makes, whatever decisions we all make in rocky times, let us make them in goodwill and in Love for one another.
As Rev. Cole states: "It is difficult work to be unified in mission and ministry when there are differences in scriptural interpretation. However, it is not impossible work. Not when there is commitment and dependence upon the Holy Spirit to guide us."