A historic, former Southern Baptist Church has adopted a new non-discrimination policy which will allow it to perform same-sex weddings and employ openly gay and transgender individuals without telling them their lifestyles violate Biblical mandates.
Greenville Online first reported that First Baptist of Greenville, South Carolina, the church home of the first Southern Baptist Convention president, recently announced it had decided to embrace "the complexities of gender identity."
"What I heard was, 'We need to do the right thing, regardless of what anybody thinks or says about us,'" Senior Pastor Jim Dant told the news outlet. "There were a few people who said, 'Are they going to start calling us the gay church in town?'"
After a six-month period of "exploratory time," the church decided to allow ministers to perform same-sex unions and ordain any person, regardless of sexual orientation and lifestyle, to serve in a leadership role.
"It's going to open up a space for evangelical gay people to have a place again," Pastor Dant said of his church's recent consensus to "not discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
The report notes that Greenville split from the Southern Baptist Church in the early 1990s and currently belongs to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Before leaving the original denomination, however, Greenville was home to William Bullein Johnson, who was the inaugural president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Meanwhile, President Ronnie Floyd told the Christian Examiner that despite Greenville's decision to abandon a Biblical definition of marriage, the SBC will continue to oppose same-sex marriage and will be in prayer for the dissenting church.
"We pray that this church will one day return to be biblically driven in their belief about marriage and family, rather than culturally driven as they have testified in the reported story," he said.
In an op-ed published the Washington Post in June, Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, also expressed his opposition to same-sex relationships and encouraged churches to hold fast to a Biblical definition of marriage.
Moore contended that the church should be ready to reach out to "refugees from the sexual revolution," drawing a biblical reference in regards to the "sexually wayward Woman at the Well of Samaria."
However, he warned that a "church that has given up on the truth of the Scriptures, including on marriage and sexuality...has nothing to say to a fallen world." He also cautioned against ostracizing those in the LGBT community, explaining that a church that "screams with outrage at those who disagree will have nothing to say to those who are looking for a new birth."
"We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace," Moore wrote. "We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does - with mercy and with an invitation to new life."