Baptist Leaders Plan to Cut Ties With Georgia Church With Female Pastor

Baptists Planning to Disown Church Over Female Pastor

The co-pastor of an Atlanta Baptist church said she has no interest in stepping down, even though state and national leaders threaten to cut ties with her congregation because it is led by a woman.

"I know this is hurting people, so I'm saddened," the Rev. Mimi Walker said. "I'm not so much offended but saddened for the path they're taking."

Walker and her husband, the Rev. Graham Walker, co-pastors of the Druid Hills Baptist Church for two years, were told in late January that the Georgia Baptist Convention would recommend "defellowshipping" the Walkers' church unless Mimi Walker stepped down or the church admitted that her husband was more senior than she.

The couple, backed by their congregation of about 100 active members, refused.

The Georgia Baptist Convention "wouldn't do it if they didn't think it was helping their cause somehow," Walker said.

That cause, she said, is following a conservative set of regulations, adopted by the national Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, that include doing away with women in leadership positions.

Defellowshipping means the Georgia Baptist Convention would no longer accept the church's donations for mission work and that the church would no longer be welcome to use GBC resources for things like Sunday School materials and ministry conferences.

"Our first indication was in December they had just done the same to First Baptist Church of Decatur," she said. A local newspaper reporter, she said, told them GBC officials were saying "we would be next."

The Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., said the Southern Baptist Convention's policy toward women in leadership positions "hobbles the effectiveness and vitality of the church." Her church was defellowshipped by the convention last year over the same issue.

"A lot of unrepeatable time and energy went into the creation and adoption of this policy," she wrote in an e-mail. "It just seems so peripheral and small-visioned compared to the life-affirming work that God is doing in every corner of the world"

Leaders from the Georgia Baptist Convention, one of 42 state conventions under the Southern Baptist Convention, are saying little about the recommendation, made formally two weeks ago.

The GBC has 3,600 affiliated churches in Georgia with an estimated 1.2 million parishioners. There are about 42,000 churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

"The GBC has never been opposed to women serving in ministry positions other than pastor," convention executive director J. Robert White said in an e-mailed statement. "We are keeping faith with the Baptist Faith and Message with regard to women serving as pastor."

GBC spokesman Eddy Oliver told ABCNews.com that he was unsure how leaders were made aware of Mimi Walker's position at Druid Hills.

"We don't keep track of every single pastor," Oliver said.

Roger "Sing" Oldham, spokesman for the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com that "I would think the majority of Southern Baptists view the ordination of woman as a modern cultural innovation that is at odds with both scripture and Christian history and would affirm this action by the Georgia Baptist Convention."

But Pennington-Russell said she's confindent many would believe otherwise.

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