Thursday, February 26, 2015

First Southern Baptist minister to perform a same sex marriage

That claim has been made concerning the February 9th Alabama wedding of two females officiated by the Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson. Rev. Jimmerson is an unpaid staff minister of the Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville who describes her staff title, "Minister to the Community," as "an honorific."

A progressive Patheos blogger, David R. Henson, allowed her to write of the event on his blog, "edges of faith".  Henson introduces her article:

Today it is my honor to host the Rev. Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, the first (and perhaps only) Southern Baptist minister to perform a legal same-sex wedding.

That a judge in Alabama opened the door for such weddings in Alabama is old news. There were reports of this particular wedding as it happened. In fact, it was national news according to Jimmerson. But this article, carried by Baptist News Global as curated content, is the first I've seen to trumpet the line about the first Southern Baptist minister to perform such a wedding.

I don't know Ellin Jimmerson. She is a friend of a friend who attends Weatherly Heights Baptist Church. I did meet the pastor of the church some years ago. Not unexpectedly, the local Baptist association has moved post haste to disfellowship the church. Such action is expected in a few days.

One expects the Alabama State Baptist Convention to do likewise. WHBC is dually affiliated, having a long relationship with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I understand their financial support of the ASBC and SBC to be minimal; nonetheless, they may accurately be described as a Southern Baptist church.

The Rev. Dr. Jimmerson (I understand she has a PhD from the University of Houston, an Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University, and an undergrad degree from Samford) was ordained by WHBC, a Southern Baptist church.

Here's a thought: She has as accurate a claim to a title of "Southern Baptist" minister as I do, both of us having been ordained by Southern Baptist churches. That's our good old Baptist polity, brethren and sistren.

Which raises an interesting question: How far do we Southern Baptists plan to go to separate ourselves from churches and ministers with whose actions we disagree?

I'm not sure how strongly WHBC desires to be known as a Southern Baptist church. They are prominently Baptist, not so much "Southern Baptist." Their website lists the Baptist Faith and Message Statement, 1963 as their doctrinal guide.

Were I a member of the local association, I would likely vote to disfellowship the church. Even though the church itself has not endorsed same-sex marriage formally, nor held such a ceremony on their premises, it looks as if the church and association do not share common purposes in this area. Churches make decisions about affiliations. So do associations.

But here's a point. Any minister ordained by a Southern Baptist church may certainly call himself or herself a "Southern Baptist minister." There's no fix to that short of the ordaining church withdrawing their ordination.

I have occasionally heard someone suggest that state conventions and the SBC at the national level take action so that any church with an affiliation with the CBF be excluded. This could be done actively, name them and disfellowship them, or passively, require all churches who wish to affiliate with the state or national convention to adopt the current Baptist Faith and Message.

It would be complicated, not to mention a public relations disaster, to set up a mechanism to scrutinize each of the 50,000 or so SBC churches to see if they give to the wrong group, or have some group (maybe "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith"? No, wait, I think that was the Inquisition) set up to handle this stuff.

But hey, this is our polity - local church autonomy. We might have to learn to like it, whatever may come.

Incidentally, does our Executive Committee have a trademark on "Southern Baptist" or is it up for legitimate use by any church or minister who can make a connection?


Bob Allen said...

In Alabama, perhaps, but if you define Southern Baptist minister as anyone who was ordained in a church with some affiliation to the SBC, I would bet there are others who have performed same-sex weddings.

William said...

I bet so too, Bob, but no one has seen fit to tout it thus. I'm not sure what the value is of doing that other than to tweak the SBC.