The Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) has reportedly decided to expel a historic congregation for having a woman as its senior pastor.
Baptist Press reported that the TBC voted overwhelmingly in favor of a motion not to seat messengers for the First Baptist Church in Jefferson City during the convention's opening session on Tuesday.
First Baptist, which was organized in the 1830s, before there was a Southern Baptist Convention, had tried to register seven messengers, including Ellen Di Giosia, who became the church's senior pastor earlier this year.
Last month, the TBC's Committee on Credentials had determined that a church with a female pastor does not fit the definition of a "cooperating church" as defined by convention bylaws, which declares that "the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."
Tim Fields, a messenger of Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville, opposed the motion, arguing that churches are autonomous and Baptists are traditionally supportive of the concept of the priesthood of the believer.
Frank Bowling, pastor of First Baptist Church in Medina, agreed that churches are autonomous, but pointed out that conventions also have the same autonomy.
He added that the question was not about calling, but about the "autonomy of the local church and this body being able to express that same self-autonomy."
Kelly Moreland Jones, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Nashville, noted that while her church is cooperating with the TBC, it affirms an earlier version of the Baptist Faith and Message that does not prohibit women from serving as pastors.
Kevin Shrum, pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, agreed that First Baptist Church has every right to organize as it sees fit, but added that the TBC also has the right to "organize on the principles it has adopted."
After a motion to cut off debate by Shrum, the messengers voted by a show of ballots to cut off the TBC's ties with First Baptist.
Following the vote, Di Giosia and the messengers released a statement acknowledging that their congregation is no longer affiliated with Southern Baptists in Tennessee.
"While the outcome saddens us, it's fair to say that we are not surprised," the statement said, according to Baptist News Global. "Our congregation's long-held conviction that God calls all people into service regardless of gender has not always been received well, even by some brothers and sisters in Christ," it added.
Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, described Di Giosia as "a good and godly sister in Christ," and expressed appreciation for how the messengers conducted themselves during the discussion.
"They were very civil and they exuded everything that we hold dear about our relationship to Christ," he said.
Davis also expressed hope that the TBC's decision sends the message that "we are going to be committed to Scripture and that in spite of how others may interpret this action, it is very important that we have some anchors and that we have a belief system that is tied to Scripture."