What started as an attempt to modernize a Georgia church led to expulsion from Southern Baptist Convention on the grounds of racism.
Raleigh White Baptist Church, which once boasted a membership of 253, recently had fewer than 20 people attend on Sundays. The all-white church in Albany, Ga., planned to bequeath its facilities to New Seasons, an African American church, to reflect the changing demographics of the surrounding community.
The plan was simple: New Seasons would share facilities with Raleigh White for six months, at which time the building would be passed off. But after Raleigh White leadership changed and internal opposition surfaced, the plan collapsed.
Marcus Glass, the pastor of New Seasons, told The Washington Post that many in his congregation complained about treatment from Raleigh White members. There were small offenses, such as hostile glares and refusals to speak — violations of Southern hospitality. Then things escalated, Glass said: denying a 9-year-old access to a restroom, and a horde of white women jeering over a black woman while she cleaned feces off a floor.
Glass said he tried to play nice. He, alongside many in his congregation, would arrive early to their service with the hope of greeting white churchgoers as they left their own morning service. Glass said Raleigh White objected to the encroachment and changed its service time to avoid the interaction.
The deteriorating relationship between Raleigh White and New Seasons prompted an investigation by Mallary Baptist Association, a Southwest Georgia conference of churches and missions. The association attempted to mend the relationship.
But Raleigh White’s leadership would not budge, according to Mallary officials.
The affair exploded on a Sunday morning in March. Raleigh White planned to receive an influx of visitors and told Glass that his church’s service would need to be pushed back several hours.
Raleigh White’s service lasted longer than expected and white members met black churchgoers at their cars, telling them not to come into the building, according to Glass.
“If you were white, you could go into the church. If you were black, you were not allowed in,” Glass said.
Frank Stimpson, a senior member of Raleigh White, said that “the allegations are untrue.” But, he told The Post by phone: “We’ve put it behind us.”
The March incident prompted Mallary to take more aggressive action, expelling the 75-year-old church from its 53-member association.
“What we did was to protect the other 52 churches in our association from being party to one church’s actions,” said Hans Wunch, the director of the association. “We regret these actions had to be taken, but we couldn’t sweep them under the rug. We wanted to think this was something besides racism. But, it just became overly clear that it became a component to what was going on. … We could not associate with that anymore.”
Mallary’s spring decision prompted the Southern Baptist Convention to follow suit, removing the church from its ranks.
Sing Oldham, a spokesman for the SBC, told The Post that this is the first time the convention has removed a church because of allegations of racism. The organization has expelled churches as recently as 2014 “for openly affirming homosexual behavior,” Oldham said.
Last year, the SBC passed a resolution disavowing the alt-right and white supremacy.
Glass, the New Seasons pastor, said the SBC has made sincere steps in the area of race and hopes Raleigh White can one day do the same.
“I take no pleasure in what is happening with our sister church,” he said. “I pray one day we can come back and reconcile.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Southern Baptist Convention has expelled churches for ordaining female preachers. Some state conventions and associations have removed churches for having female preachers, but not the SBC. The article has been updated.