Historic DC church severs SBC ties

Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., cites disagreements over basic Baptist values such as autonomy of the local church and the separation of church and state as reasons to disassociate from the SBC.

By Bob Allen

A 150-year-old church in downtown Washington, D.C., voted July 25 to disassociate from the Southern Baptist Convention.

The vote by Calvary Baptist Church followed a letter last February sent to the SBC president at the time, Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., about concerns with the recent direction of the nation’s second largest faith group behind Roman Catholics.

“We believe the Southern Baptist Convention has departed from the historic principles of separation of church and state and autonomy of the local church to such a degree that seriously calls into question our continued affiliation with the convention,” said a portion of the letter quoted in a press release.

Founded in 1862 by abolitionists who separated from another Baptist church that refused to pray for Union soldiers during the Civil War, Calvary describes itself as “an ecumenical, multi-racial, multi-ethnic Christian body committed to living faithfully at the heart of this great city.”

Church home to politicians including President Warren Harding, the congregation has a long tradition of social justice and concern for the poor.

Calvary ministered to and supported justice for Asian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. It integrated in 1954, earlier than many traditionally white Baptist churches in the South, and supported the Civil Rights Movement. In 2008, the church adopted a policy granting "full and equal access to all pastoral services and opportunities for leadership" to all church members, whether straight or gay.

“Throughout our history, Calvary Baptist Church has affirmed the vibrant role faith can play in the public sphere and call of the church to be a prophetic voice in our policy decisions, but always in a manner that is in keeping with the Baptist distinctives of soul freedom and separation of church and state,” said deacon chair Rachel Johnson.

Calvary will continue to affiliate with American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.

“I applaud the Calvary congregation for continuing to define a mission and vision for life as a gospel community on the corner of 8th and H, NW,” Amy Butler, pastor of the church since 2003 and a columnist for Associated Baptist Press, said. “I’m looking forward to all the ways we will continue to grow together, working with partners that help us interpret the gospel in new and exciting ways.”