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By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer

The Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee voted Tuesday to oust four of its churches, two over policies deemed to be too inclusive of LGBTQ people and two more for employing pastors convicted of sex offenses.

The actions were announced at a meeting marked by warnings from two top leaders that the SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, was damaging itself with divisions over several critical issues including race.

“We should mourn when closet racists and neo-Confederates feel more at home in our churches than do many of our people of color,” said the SBC’s president, J.D. Greear, in his opening speech.

The two churches expelled for LGBTQ inclusion were St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Towne View Baptist Church, in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Towne View’s pastor, the Rev. Jim Conrad, told The Associated Press last week that he would not appeal the ouster and plans to affiliate his church, at least temporarily, with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which lets churches set their own LGBTQ policies.

Towne View began admitting LGBTQ worshippers as members in October 2019 after a same-sex couple with three adopted children asked Conrad if they could attend, a decision he defends as the right thing to do.

“The alternative would have been to say, ‘We’re probably not ready for this,’ but I couldn’t do that,” said Conrad, pastor there since 1994.

St. Matthews Baptist was among more than 12 churches that lost their affiliation with the Kentucky Baptist Convention in 2018 because they made financial contributions to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, which had recently lifted a ban on hiring LGBTQ employees.

SBC officials said Westside Baptist Church in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, was ousted because it “knowingly employs as pastor a registered sex offender,” while Antioch Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tennessee, has a pastor who was convicted of statutory rape.

The two-day executive committee meeting opened Monday, with a schedule featuring speeches by Greear and executive committee president Ronnie Floyd bemoaning the multiple acrimonious divisions within the denomination.

“This sound of war in the camp of Southern Baptists is concerning to me, and I know it is also concerning to many of you,” Floyd said. “While we hear and see how the American culture is so out of control, my friends, our own culture within the Southern Baptist family is also out of control.”

Floyd noted that the divisions mirror ideological, political and racial differences nationwide.

“In this fever-pitch environment, each of us needs to be very careful with the words we write, speak, tweet or post,” he said. “As SBC leaders and followers of Jesus, our public behavior matters.”

Greear addressed racial tensions in the SBC, a longstanding problem that has recently been rekindled. Some Black pastors have left the SBC and others are voicing dismay over pronouncements by the SBC’s six seminary presidents — all of them white — restricting how the subject of systemic racism can be taught at their schools.

Going forward, Greear said, Black Southern Baptists should be included in discussions on this topic, including the SBC’s stance toward the concept of Critical Race Theory, which the seminary presidents repudiated.

“The reality is that if we in the SBC had shown as much sorrow for the painful legacy that racism and discrimination has left in our country as we have passion to decry CRT, we probably wouldn’t be in this mess,” Greear said

“Do we want to be a Gospel people, or a Southern culture people? Which is the more important part of our name — Southern or Baptist?”

After the two speeches, the executive committee unanimously adopted an expansion plan called Vision 2025. It would increase full-time Southern Baptist international missionaries from 3,700 to 4,200, boost the number of congregations by 5,000 and seek to reverse the decline in baptizing 12- to 17-year-olds.

Floyd said SBC churches are baptizing 38% fewer teenagers than in 2000.

___

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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HEALTH UPDATE: Patricia Altschul’s Butler, Michael Kelcourse

Getty Patricia Altschul in 2019

Fans of Southern Charm know that there has always been one unofficial cast member: Michael Kelcourse. Kelcourse is Southern Charm matriarch Patricia Altschul’s longtime butler. Kelcourse has been with Altschul for 17 years, and he had become part of the Southern Charm family.

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A post shared by Patricia Altschul (@pataltschul)

Sad news hit the Bravo world in February when Altschul’s son, Whitney Sudler-Smith, announced that Kelcourse suffered a spinal cord stroke.

“I am sorry to inform you that Michael Kelcourse, affectionately known as ‘Michael The Butler’, recently suffered an acute spinal cord infarction which is often called a ‘spinal cord stroke,’” Sudler-Smith revealed to Bravo’s The Daily Dish. “Although this tragedy has caused significant nerve damage and impairment, with the help of the outstanding physicians at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, we are hopeful Michael will soon recover. Thank you for respecting Michael’s privacy during this challenging time.”

Unfortunately, it looks like Kelcourse has taken a poor turn and has become paraplegic. Luzanne Otte, an administrator for Kelcourse’s CaringBridge page and Thomas Ravenel’s ex-girlfriend shared the life altering update February 23.

“When an otherwise healthy loved one becomes paraplegic over night, we may not know what to say but we know what to do: be at their side,” she wrote. “The pandemic has robbed us of that form of support. Since those dearest to Michael are not permitted to be physically present, we are hoping for a windfall of well-wishes from the public to support a lengthy journey. Michael’s support team recognizes the magic in a stranger’s kindness and healing power in their prayers.”

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