Baptist church leader “agrees to disagree” with Madison Baptist Association over same-sex marriage

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- After a local Baptist minister at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville performed the first same-sex marriage in Madison County, the Madison Baptist Association is getting involved.

Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, who works as Minister to the Community of the church, told WHNT News 19 the day before the historic weddings that she believes God is love. She said she believes this applies to same-sex couples, too, and it's part of her calling to perform same-sex marriages as well as traditional ones.

The Madison Baptist Association defines itself as a "self-governing fellowship of autonomous Baptist Churches." Its mission is to promote partnership between its member churches in missions and ministry. Also listed on its website is a duty to "develop and maintain effective relationships with the State Convention and all other entities of the denomination."

Weatherly Heights Baptist Church pastor Dr. David Freeman has emailed his congregation to inform them of recent meetings with the larger Baptist organization. Now, the church faces possible disfellowship.

He said this stems from his and Dr. Ellin Jimmerson's position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

"If [the Madison County Baptist Association's] recommendation is approved, we will still be Weatherly Heights Baptist Church, but we will no longer be a member of the Madison Baptist Association," he wrote in a statement to the congregation earlier this week. "We simply agreed to disagree."

His full statement is below:

My beloved congregation,
I just left a meeting with representatives from the Madison Baptist Association.  They wanted to clarify my position on homosexuality and same sex marriage.  They had copies of the sermon I preached in 2013 (What Are We to Believe about Homosexuality?) and the article I wrote for last week’s Weathervane (About Same Sex Marriage).  My positions fall outside the beliefs embraced by the Association, which are defined in the Association's constitution and by-laws.  The representatives indicated that they will recommend to the Association’s Executive Committee that our church be disfellowshipped.  If their recommendation is approved, we will still be Weatherly Heights Baptist Church, but we will no longer be a member of the Madison Baptist Association.
The meeting lasted about an hour and was cordial.  I felt respected and heard.  I listened carefully to them too.  We simply agreed to disagree.
We talked at length about the beliefs of our church on these matters.  I emphasized that our church has not formed a position on these matters.  Members of our church are free to form their own positions.  My positions are mine alone.
I hope you’re staying warm on the bitterly cold days.  I look forward to seeing you soon.
With bonds of love,
David B. Freeman, Pastor

We asked him what this means for the church. He said it's unclear, but this isn't the only Baptist organization with which the church can affiliate.  Freeman added there will be a congregational meeting in a few days to further delve into it with church members, but because this is more of an internal issue he wouldn't touch on much else with media.

The Madison Baptist Association has told WHNT News 19 in a statement that it is against their bylaws for members to perform same-sex marriages. They claim the meetings were "cordial" and respectful, but point to a difference in beliefs.

Now, the Madison Baptist Association's general officers are recommending to its Executive Board that the Weatherly Heights Baptist Church be dismissed from membership with the association.

The association's statement read, "Our By-Laws state, 'Marriage is a union between one man and one woman, following biblical principles (Gen. 2:18-25; Lev. 18:22; Matt. 19:3-6; Rom. 1:24-28; I Cor. 6:9-11; 7:1-5; Eph. 5:22-6:4; I Tim. 1:8-11). God sanctions only the union in marriage of a man to a woman.'"

There is a meeting on March 5 where the Executive Board will vote on the issue. Each of the 87 member churches' 2 representatives gets a vote to decide whether or not to go through with the church's dismissal.

The Madison Baptist Association's full statement reads:

"On Sunday, February 8, it was reported by the press that Dr. Ellin Jimmerson, identified as Minister to the Community at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, was to perform the first same sex wedding in Huntsville on February 9. With Weatherly Heights being a member of the Madison Baptist Association, the Association contacted Weatherly Heights pastor Dr. David Freeman to inquire more about this situation. In telephone conversations with Dr. Freeman it was learned that he believed that adult, loving, monogamous, same sex relationships are not condemned in the Bible. He had talked about his beliefs with a group of leaders in his church. The consensus of the group was that he had the freedom to perform a same sex marriage. Dr. Freeman is very open and honest about his beliefs on this issue and has stated them in at least one sermon, the church newsletter, interviews, and in conversations. This all led to a meeting between the General Officers of the Madison Baptist Association, Dr. Freeman, Dr. Jimmerson, and church leaders from Weatherly Heights Baptist Church on February 17. The meeting was very cordial, with respect for one another being displayed. The Madison Baptist Association representatives pointed out that belief in same sex marriage is a violation of the Association's Constitution & By-Laws, which churches in the Association are expected to adhere to. Our By-Laws state, "Marriage is a union between one man and one woman, following biblical principles (Gen. 2:18-25; Lev. 18:22; Matt. 19:3-6; Rom. 1:24-28; I Cor. 6:9-11; 7:1-5; Eph. 5:22-6:4; I Tim. 1:8-11). God sanctions only the union in marriage of a man to a woman." Our Constitution states, "The Bible is the authority for faith and practice of this Association. The Articles of Faith [The Baptist Faith & Message], the latest revision adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, systematically sets out Biblical doctrines which churches of this body hold in common." This document (The Baptist Faith & Message) states, "Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime." As the meeting between leaders progressed it became evident that there would be no agreement on this issue concerning same sex marriage, and that the Association's Constitution & By-Laws, with relation to this issue, would not be adhered to. Thus, the General Officers of the Madison Baptist Association are making a recommendation to the Executive Board that Weatherly Heights Baptist Church be dismissed from membership in the Madison Baptist Association. This Executive Board meeting will be held on March 5, at which time the recommendation will be discussed and a vote taken by Executive Board members (every church in the Association has two members on the Executive Board). We are deeply saddened by the entire occurrence of events with relation to same sex marriage in our Association, city, state, and nation. "

Various civil rights groups, including organizers of Madison County's Wedding Week and Equality Alabama, have stood by Weatherly Heights Baptist Church's decision to support same-sex marriages.