ALBANY — For Hans Wunch, April 3 will be a day he will long remember. He is only in his third year as associational missionary for Mallary Baptist Association and, this week, has lived through possibly the most stressful time of his ministry.
On April 3 – the eve of the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, TN – a called meeting of the Association’s Executive Committee addressed charges of chronic racism in one of its 53 churches. The meeting was the final step in three years of mediation between Raleigh White Baptist Church and its fast-growing African American congregation – New Seasons Church – which it was hosting.
What was further ironic from an historical perspective is that in November 1961, Albany was a testing ground in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement to desegregate Southwest Georgia. While the attempts – known as the Albany Movement – initially failed, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that he learned much that he was able to incorporate into the movement as it spread into Alabama, Mississippi, and other areas of the nation.
What Wunch and the 52 remaining member churches of Mallary Baptist Association want history to remember is the steps toward mediation that underscored their final decision to disfellowship Raleigh White. It was nothing to be proud of or to celebrate, he stresses.
The morning after the historic vote – only the first known vote in Southern Baptist history for a church to be disfellowshipped due to racism – Wunch detailed how the vote came to pass and how the road to reconciliation remains open. Moderator Butch Knight and Vice Moderator Chad Ellis also shouldered much of the tension as it came to a head in the last week.
“The reason for this action involved the church’s un-Christian attitudes and acts toward another associational church. These attitudes and acts were racially-motivated. Thus they do not reflect the values and mission of the Mallary Baptist Association,” he said in a written statement from the Association.
The recommendation also included returning to Raleigh White all 2018 financial gifts made to the Association and informing the Georgia Baptist Mission Board and Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention about their actions.
Most importantly, the vote by the Executive Committee included “a pathway to reinstatement to fellowship with our association if the church openly repents of their sin against the other church and demonstrates the genuineness of repentance.”
That step would be in conjunction with allowing an associational-appointed mediator “to work to reconcile biblically the relationship between the congregations so that both churches can minister effectively to the surrounding community. The Mallary Baptist Association shall actively pursue a location for New Seasons Church to meet for worship and ministry,” the statement said.
Twenty-six churches of the association met for the meeting. Following much discussion, the members of the Executive Committee voted unanimously to accept the Administrative Team’s recommendation.
“The recommendation called for serious actions, but they were not meant simply to punish but ultimately to bring about reconciliation and strengthen our Association’s witness in the communities in which we minister. We seek above all to advance the Gospel and honor our Lord Jesus Christ,” Wunch added.