Calvary Baptist Church, a historic Baptist landmark in Washington D.C., has named a gay couple as co-pastors, sparking controversy across various branches of the denomination.
According to Religion News Service, Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen, a lesbian couple, were introduced earlier this week as the congregation’s new senior ministers. The couple, married the weekend after same-sex marriage became legal in South Carolina in November 2014, were ordained to the gospel ministry by First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., on Nov. 15, 2015.
“We have found it so easy to fall in love with Calvary and its longstanding commitment to be a voice of justice and compassion for those who perpetually find the wholeness of their humanity disregarded and maligned,” the couple said to the congregation Sunday, according to the church.
Carol Blythe, chair of the ministerial selection committee, said couple brings “complementary skills and backgrounds that will serve the church’s needs in new and exciting ways.”
“As we met and talked with Sally and Maria about their vision for pastoral leadership at Calvary, we were struck by their deep faith and commitment to being part of a gospel community,” Blythe, a past president of the Alliance of Baptists, said in a news release. “We were impressed by how their gifts, talents and experience matched our ministry priorities – and we are thrilled about their upcoming pastorate and the versatility the co-pastor model will provide our congregation.”
According to RNS, the 155-year-old church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012 over issues including the denomination’s opposition to homosexuality, as the SBC automatically excludes churches that affirm or tolerate same-sex relationships. However, Calvary Baptist is still affiliated with other liberal Baptist denominations, including American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCPB).
Joseph Lyles, pastor of Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., told the Baptist Press he was “surprised” and “concerned” that a sister DCBC church would call openly homosexual co-pastors.
Lyles, a former president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, said he finds it “difficult” to affirm same-sex marriage “with a biblical basis.”
When it comes to cooperation within a state Baptist convention, “I would hope that lines would be drawn,” Lyles said. Though each local church “is a sovereign body, I would think that if a church is moving” toward affirmation of homosexual behavior, convention leaders should “have a serious dialogue and prayerful discussion with them.”
Lyles added, “My loving, compassionate side would not [want to disfellowship] them from the convention … Hopefully they will come around and see the biblical light.”
However, Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, took a firmer stance on the issue, saying Calvary’s call of lesbian pastors represents “a very dramatic challenge” for the DCBC and calling the move “sad news” on Twitter.
If the convention does “not expel Calvary Baptist Church from their membership,” Mohler said Jan. 10 on his podcast The Briefing, “then they by very definition simply become a convention that will accept, that indeed does accept a church that has legally married lesbian co-pastors in terms of their own membership.”
This is not the first time the church has made headlines for its stance on issues of gender and sexuality. In 2014, Calvary “reaffirmed” the ordination of pastor Allyson Robinson, dubbed the “first openly transgender Baptist minister”, who was ordained as a male but sought reaffirmation of that ordination after transitioning to present himself as a woman, according to media reports at the time. Currently, Robinson serves as Calvary’s transitions pastor.