Why I Decided to Leave the Southern Baptist Church and am Contemplating a Move to the Episcopal Church

I rarely post about the topics of religion or politics.  Both topics tend to inflame and divide and that’s something I don’t want this blog to do.  That said, I’ve had something on my chest for quite awhile and I feel the need to get it off.  I promise that posts of this nature won’t be a regular topic (it can’t be, because this is one of the hardest things I’ve written).  If this isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to pass it by.  It won’t be any insult to me at all.

I was brought up a Southern Baptist.  For as long as I can remember, my parents have attended Southern Baptist Churches:  Oak Park Baptist Church in New Orleans, Immanuel Baptist Church in Savannah, and Isle of Hope Baptist in Savannah.  I was Baptized at Oak Park Baptist Church and that is where my first memories of going to Sunday School were.  When my father retired from the US Navy and we moved to Savannah, we first went to Immanuel Baptist Church where my Grandparents and Aunt attended before moving to Isle of Hope Baptist Church, which was my Church home until for the most part I stopped going during my college years.

I initially stopped going to Church for two main reasons.  I was very unhappy with the way one Preacher at Isle of Hope Baptist was treated and subsequently run off.  It was church politics at its worst and to see people that I grew up respecting act in such a manner disillusioned me.  I also grew unhappy with the way the Baptist Church treated those whose lifestyle they didn’t agree with (homosexuals for example).  For a long time, I could deal with the intolerance but the politics and mistreatment of a Preacher I couldn’t.  A few years ago, I decided to try going back on Wednesday nights and quickly realized that nothing had really changed; the politics were still there.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Southern Baptist Convention’s response to the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow gay scouts.  While stopping short of calling on their member Churches to cut ties with the Boy Scouts and stop sponsoring Boy Scout Troops and Cub Scout Packs, they made it clear that they approved of decisions to do so.  This is nothing short of choosing judgment over ministry, it is a decision that runs contrary to what the Church should be about.  First, it isn’t our place as Christians to judge someone else,  God will judge; in the meantime, we are to treat them with respect.  Second, cutting ties with the Boy Scouts is cutting ties with an effective, established ministry – an opportunity to minister and witness to those who may not go to church.

That was what was on my mind when I began searching for a new church.  I was tired of the judgement and lack of respect that I was witnessing from my denomination.  I wanted to find a church that treated people with respect regardless of whether they led a lifestyle they didn’t approve of, realizing that it isn’t for us to judge, but up to God.   As I do on other decisions that I make, I began to research and read.

First I began looking at various denominations on the internet.  When I came across the Episcopal Church, here is some of what I found on their website under the link “I Am an Episcopalian:”

  • As Episcopalians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord, and we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • We strive to love our neighbors as ourselves and respect the dignity of every person. Both men and women, including those who are married, are eligible for ordination as deacons, priests and bishops.
  • Lay people exercise a vital role in the governance and ministry of our church. We affirm that issues such as birth control are matters of personal informed conscience.
  • We celebrate our unity in Christ while honoring our differences, always putting the work of love before uniformity of opinion.
  • All are welcome to find a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church.
The last line in particular got to me, and the more I looked at the Episcopal Church and the more I read about it, the more it seems to be a central theme of the Church.  When I talked to an Episcopalian friend and then visited an Episcopalian Church, it kept popping up:  “All Are Welcome.”

After initial research on the web, I wanted to learn more about the Episcopal Church before going to one, so it was time to buy some books.  The books I chose were:   Your Faith, Your Life:  An Invitation to the Episcopal Church by Jennifer Gamber and Bill Lewellis and Welcome to the Episcopal Church:  An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship by Christopher L. Webber.   My reading about the Episcopal Church really got my attention:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Your Faith, Your Life:  An Invitation to the Episcopal Church (Jennifer Gamber and Bill Lewellis)

Here is a church that can accept and respect a person who’s lifestyle and decisions they may not agree with and leave the judgement to God.  This is what I had been searching for.  The Episcopal Church is a church that will not reject or ostracize a person whom they don’t agree with or disapprove of.  This is a church, that in general, would not cut ties with the Boy Scouts because they made a decision to accept homosexuals as scouts.

…the Bible is neither self-help, nor a rulebook, nor God’s answers to moral questions, and certainly not a weapon with with to put others down.

Your Faith, Your Life:  An Invitation to the Episcopal Church (Jennifer Gamber and Bill Lewellis)

As I read on, I discovered more things about the Episcopal Church that I liked.  One of them is the way the Episcopal Church approaches learning about and understanding faith.  They don’t take their lead from one person or from one source but through a combination of sources:

We resist simplistic theology by doing our soul searching not only with the Bible, not only with tradition, not only with our God-given reason and life experience, but with all three: testing each one with the other two.  You may have heard that referred to as the Anglican three legged stool:  scripture, tradition, and reason combined with life experience.

Your Faith, Your Life:  An Invitation to the Episcopal Church (Jennifer Gamber and Bill Lewellis)

Christians should look for guidance not from the pope or simply from the Bible, but from Scripture, tradition, and reason.  We begin with Scripture, learn what the church has traditionally taught, and use our minds to understand.  These three work together to give Anglicans a balanced approach to understanding the faith of the church.

Welcome to the Episcopal Church:  An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship (Christopher L. Webber)

It is important to keep in mind the kind of literature you are reading in the Bible.  Just as you wouldn’t read a telephone book for spiritual inspiration, you wouldn’t read laws in Leviticus the same way you’d read the hymns in Pslams or the history in Exodus.

Your Faith, Your Life:  An Invitation to the Episcopal Church (Jennifer Gamber and Bill Lewellis)

This really appealed to me, perhaps because of my love of history and my education in history.  You study history in much the same way, depending not on one source but on multiple sources – using them together to come to and understanding of what happened and why it happened.

After talking with an Episcopalian friend, I decided to try going to an Episcopal Church and attended my first service on 18 August 2013 at St. Francis of the Islands on Wilmington Island.  I’d been to Catholic weddings before and some idea of what the structure of the service might be like, but to be honest I didn’t know what to expect or whether I would like it or not.  The Episcopal service is much more structured than the Baptist service and Communion/Eucharist is observed every Sunday.  I found that I liked the structure and the weekly Eucharist very, very much.  The structure of the service and the participation by the congregation makes you feel a part of the service instead of being preached at.  Communion/Eucharist is such an important and central part of the Christian faith, why not observe it every week?  I don’t think weekly observation reduces its importance but instead reinforces it.  I was also pleased to find that women held positions in the clergy and leadership of the service.

Episcopalians came to believe that when the Bible says women should not speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:33-36), it is again asking church members to follow contemporary etiquette, but when St. Paul says that in the Christ there is neither male nor female, slave or free, but all are one in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28), he is holding up a vision of a very different society in which neither race nor gender is a barrier to church membership or leadership.  Thus when we come at last into a world in which women are truly free to use the gifts God has given them in any walk of life, the church should not only accept that change but rejoice in it and endorse it by its own practice.

Welcome to the Episcopal Church:  An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship (Christopher L. Webber)

Coming from the Baptist Church, where women are allowed to be Sunday School teachers, music leaders, and committee chairmen but never a Pastor or a Deacon, this is refreshing.  It makes no sense to limit leadership to just half of those available.  Women are just as capable of ministering as men are (and in some instances probably better).  If a person is called to serve God, it isn’t our place to to say “No, you have to be a man to do this,” it is our place to accept that person’s calling and allow them to serve!

Protestants searching for a church with a deeper sense of of tradition and the mystery of worship as well as Roman Catholics looking for a church with more willingness to allow for independent thinking were finding a home in in the Episcopal Church in increasing numbers.

Welcome to the Episcopal Church:  An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship (Christopher L. Webber)

In my journey from the Baptist Church to the Episcopal Church, I think I’ve found both.  I’ve come to appreciate the “deeper sense of tradition and the mystery of the worship” and I’ve found a Church that doesn’t have a problem with independent thinking.  Along the way I’ve discovered that every church has politics and that it’s something I’ll have to deal with.  I’ve realized that by judging someone on their church politics, I’m no different than those who would judge someone for their sexual preference.  I’m now attending the 8:00 AM Holy Eucharist at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Isle of Hope when I’m home in Savannah on my weekends off.  I’m seriously considering joining the Episcopal Church and becoming a member of St. Thomas.  God Willing, I’ve found a spiritual home.

11 thoughts on “Why I Decided to Leave the Southern Baptist Church and am Contemplating a Move to the Episcopal Church

  1. Excellent essay! As a ‘refugee’ myself, I can sympathize profoundly, You might also enjoy “Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church” – by Robert E. Webber and Lester Ruth. That book helped me a lot 20 years ago, and has just ben brought back into print.

  2. Greetings, I’m David, K1LD -.A Very active DXer and contester, and a life long Episcopalian. Your blog was forwarded to me by my brother who an Episcopal Priest. This is a great reflection that summarizes why I stay an Episcopalian. The books you referenced are familiar to me because my vicar has used them as she works with new members.

    I attend St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Hampsteqd, NH and as much as I enjoy DXing and contesting, my faith in God is stronger and is further expressed in the church with Benedictine Spirituality and practice as a life professed brother in an Episcopal Benedictine order.

    I wish you well in your spiritual journey and pray that you will be strengthened in your journey to God via the Episcopal Church.

    Br. David Gerns, OSB and K1LD

  3. We would be delighted to have you. Either way, thank you for considering the Episcopal Church and may God bless you and keep you!

  4. I left the Free Will Baptists a long time ago, and after a journey leading me through Roman Catholicism, Wicca, Buddhism, Agnosticism and Atheism, I have found a home at St Luke’s .Episcopal in Vancouver, Washington. I sing in the choir and am a bell-ringer with our bell choir and I love being a part of a church where ALL are welcome. Best wishes on your journey; I think you may find the Episcopal Church to be a place you can call home. Blessings!

  5. Your words resonate with me being someone who has attended the Anglican (Episcopal) church for over 20 years. Everything you say is true, including the fact of politics – but unlike some denominations, we have authority within church structure (ie. arch deacon, bishop) to support the clergy if things go too far. Thanks for sharing – it reminds me of why I continue to be a member.

  6. Thanks everyone for the good words, suggestions, and comments. I can honestly say that I’m in a happier place now than I have been for years.

  7. This is amazing. You could be writing about what I am going through right now. I will soon be 49 and have been in a Baptist church all my life. Like you I have been thinking of leaving because I find I can no longer say I am Baptist because I do not agree with most of what they say they believe. I had researched and found Episcopalian beliefs to be the ones I am most comfortable with. I haven’t attended yet but reading this after finding it through Google made my heart smile. God moves in mysterious ways- even Google! Thank you and blessings on you and your journey.

    1. Thanks, Amy – a blessings on you and yours as well. It was a difficult decision to make but I’m so happy that I made it. The Episcopal services are quite a bit different than the Bpatist services I grew up with and it surprised me that I like them so much. Communion each Sunday emphasizes its importance and I enjoy the structure of the services.

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. That is a courageous thing to do, and may God bless you on your journey.

    Since you research your thinking well, I encourage you to resist popular impressions and mainstream media exaggerations about the Pope and the Catholic church. While the popular image is of human judging with authority, the truth is that the Pope only strives to represent the authority of the very things cited above: scripture, tradition, and reason. Because your struggle has been with respect shown to our fellow man, it can be difficult to separate moral teaching (that indeed leaves judgment to God) from those who (with or without fully formed consciences) break the greatest commandment. Continue your research. Understand the true moral teaching of each denomination. See http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-splendor-of-truth-brings-an-episcopalian-minister-and-his-flock-home and many other resources.

    I love my Episcopalian brothers, especially for their faithful living out of church traditions. You can definitely find much richness there and may God lead you to wherever he is calling you.

  9. Great reading your post, I have been exploring The Episcopal Church and ordered the book you cite in the article earlier today. I am coming over from the Roman Catholic denomination. I’ve been to a couple of Episcopal services and like the similarities between the faith traditions. I also appreciate the differences.

    1. Thanks Paul. Going on a year after writing this post, I’ve been attending services at two different Episcopal churches, St. Thomas in Savannah and St. Marks in Brunswick. I’ve decided that I want to take the next step and formally become an Episcopalian, which I hope to go forward with very soon.

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