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(Winston-Salem, North Carolina) The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has taken a formal stand on gays in a vote that asked its board to define when a member church is "in friendly cooperation" with the convention.
At the convention's 175th annual meeting, convention delegates - also called messengers - voted Tuesday to ask their board of directors what constitutes a church "in friendly cooperation with the convention and sympathetic to its purposes and work."
The motion was made by Bill Sanderson, pastor of Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell, who said that such a policy "must deal clearly with "homosexual behavior" and include that a church that "knowingly affirms, approves or endorses homosexual behavior" is a church not in friendly cooperation with the convention."
Churches that contribute financially to the convention are said to be "in friendly cooperation" now, said Norman Jameson, convention spokesman.
Executing the policy might not be easy, an observer of religion said.
"The convention becomes essentially an investigatory agency ... on one issue," said Bill Leonard, dean of divinity at Wake Forest University. "It will be interesting to see how they police this."
The Rev. David Horton, president of Gate City Baptist Church in Greensboro and the outgoing state convention president, supported the motion.
"I hope (the public) will take it to mean that North Carolina Baptists are voicing our biblical conviction ... (but also) that God offers love and forgiveness and healing," he said.
Not all delegates supported the motion.
"Could it be that homosexuality gains our attention primarily because it's not 'our' sin?" said Rob Helton, a messenger from Cherry Point Baptist Church in Havelock. "If we write a policy (on homosexuality), it seems only fair and right that we write a policy on every sin in the Bible."
Jo Godfrey, a messenger from Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, said the motion showed a lack of respect for Baptist heritage, which includes the autonomy of the local church.
In other business, the delegates approved a slate of conservative candidates for offices. The Rev. Stanley "Stan" James Welch, pastor of Blackwelder Park Baptist Church in Kannapolis, was elected president
At a news conference after the election, Welch said homosexuality has gotten Baptists' attention because of its visible role in American culture.
"Everything in our culture has pushed it to the forefront," he said. "I think it came out in the culture, and we have to deal with it."
The convention, which counts 1.2 million Baptists in its association, continues Wednesday.