HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Baptist church in Hattiesburg that is self-described as "a different kind of Baptist church" was kicked out of the Pine Belt Baptist Association.
A written statement by University Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Rusty Edwards said members of the association voted to dismiss UBC from its membership on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
"Last month, University Baptist Church learned that we were no longer considered a cooperating church with the Mississippi Baptist Convention," Edwards' statement read.
The statement said University Baptist was criticized by sister churches in recent months "for our membership policy which welcomes all people into the congregation who confess Jesus as Lord."
The church, which is located on Arlington Loop, has a billboard on nearby Hardy Street, which includes a picture of Edwards and associate minister, Reverend Kathryn Spagler, reading "Jesus Welcomed Everyone, So do We."
The church's website also welcomes viewers with a picture of Edwards and Spagler, with a caption that said "We ordain women as deacons and ministers... We welcome all people."
Edwards' statement said the church's current membership policy was established in the early 1970s, following the church's racial integration.
"At that time, our open policy was an anomaly among most Baptist churches in the local association and Mississippi State Baptist Convention," the statement said. "While our decision in the 1970s made us unique among our sister churches, we were allowed to continue fellowship and served as a prophetic voice of the Gospel within our local and state Baptist communities."
A sermon that was linked in the letter from UBC, titled "What's up with God breaking God's rules" was given on Sunday, Oct. 18. That sermon discussed "foreign wives" and children being cast out, citing Ruth 1:1-17.
"We don't know where, just somewhere in the in-between space that is dangerous space," Edwards said of those cast out in the sermon. "The truth is, our story is at its best and most revolutionary when it is whispered from the margins, whispered from the world's uncharted places... Jesus' entire ministry was to come close to the oppressed."
To read the letter in its entirety, click here.
A statement from the Pine Belt Baptist Association was released Tuesday afternoon.
The statement specifically outlined University Baptist Church's decision to openly affirm the practice of a "homosexual lifestyle" into their church.
According to the statement, the church is listed as an "affirming" church on the website gaychurch.org.
The Pine Belt Baptist Association said that doctrine is inconsistent with the Baptist Faith and Message.
Because of this, the Pine Belt Baptist Association sent a letter to UBC giving the church the option to clear up the "affirming" church doctrine, or to disassociate from the association.
University Baptist was given until Oct. 20 to respond.
"We do not take this decision lightly, recognizing that this is a sensitive issue and has the potential to become divisive. Our desire is that the handling of this issue would not create division or discord with University Baptist Church, sister churches, and the other churches of the greater Pine Belt region, all of whom are attempting to further the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nation," the statement read.
The Pine Belt Baptist Association ended their statement by reiterating the doctrine the association believes in.
"However, we, the Executive Committee, are unashamedly confident that churches affirming the homosexual lifestyle are not seeking to follow the teaching of Scripture and are not in friendly cooperation with the mission and purpose of the Mississippi Baptist Convention."
To view the Pine Belt Baptist Association's statement, click here.