JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) – A Florida Baptist church that recently opened its pulpit to a registered sex offender has been asked to withdraw from its local association of Southern Baptist churches.
Jacksonville Baptist Association leaders said March 2 that conversations with leadership of Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church produced a “mutual understanding that it is necessary” for the church to withdraw from membership.
The small congregation made international headlines recently after barring children from worship in order to accommodate terms of probation for Darrell Gilyard. Gilyard began preaching there at the end of January, one month after he completed a three-year prison term for sex crimes with two underage girls committed while he was pastor of a different church.
Gilyard, 50, pleaded guilty in 2009 to lewd or lascivious conduct and molestation involving two girls younger than 16. He remains on a three-year supervised probation that bars him from having unsupervised contact with minors.
David Tarkington, moderator of Jacksonville Baptist Association, and Lead Missions Strategist Rick Wheeler, said in a statement that they were “broken and saddened” by information being reported about the church.
While “affirming the autonomy of member churches,” the leaders said, “the circumstances of CTMBC do concern us.” The association contacted Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church to communicate those concerns, leading to an understanding that the congregation would “leave the fellowship of the Jacksonville Baptist Association.” The church intends to confirm that understanding in writing, according to the associational leaders.
Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church is listed in membership rolls of Jacksonville Baptist Association, the Florida Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention. Tarkington and Wheeler said the church has not contributed financially to the association since 2003 and does not provide statistical information.
The Florida Baptist Convention released a statement affirming “the role of the local association as the theological guardian of theology, faith, practice and polity.” The state convention defines cooperation by giving to the Cooperative Program unified budget and reporting statistical information. While listed as a Florida Baptist church since 1998, Christ Tabernacle has done neither for the last six years.
The statement said convention staff were already trying to contact leaders of the church prior to Gilyard’s appointment to discuss the congregation’s non-participation.
“Since the current situation developed, we have made additional attempts to contact church leaders,” the convention said in a separate statement also released Friday. “Yesterday we were able to contact the chairman of the deacons and express our concern about the on-going relationship with the congregation.”
The association’s statement asked members to “continue to pray earnestly for the unity throughout the entire body of Christ in our region and for the purity of our faith and practice.”
“We seek to honor the name of Jesus in all we do and in how we conduct ourselves in these matters,” the leaders said.