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During its Executive Committee meeting this February, Southern Baptist Convention decided to expel a Texas church that hired a pastor who is registered as sex offender. Ranchland Heights Baptist Church in Midland, Texas is the first church to be recommended for removal by the newly formed Credential Committee. This Committee was created last year by Southern Baptists in order to respond to sex abuse crisis among this Christian denomination.
During the Convention's annual meeting in June last year, Southern Baptists voted to change their bylaws in order for this Committee to be created; to give it the power to investigate sexual abuse complaints against churches and to make recommendations for action. Now the Committee decided to recommend the Texas church for removal and eventually it was removed by the Executive Committee.
Ranchland Heights is “no longer to be considered in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention,” said the Rev. Mike Stone, chairman of the Executive Committee (EC), as reported by The Religion News Service. Stone did not share why the church was being removed during Tuesday’s meeting, but the official Twitter account for the Executive Committee detailed the reason. “The EC has moved to disfellowship Ranchland Heights Baptist Church in Midland, Texas because of its employment of a lifetime registered sex offender as pastor,” the post stated.
Phillip Rutledge, who was convicted in 2003 of aggravated sexual assault charges against two girls and who is a lifetime registered sex offender, was hired by the church in 2016 and he has been a pastor since. The church was aware of his misconduct and his conviction but decided to hire him anyway. According to their explanation, they took some preventative steps, like never allowing him to be alone with any youths. “Our administration knew about Bro. Phillip's history before the hiring, and the vast majority of the church knew about it as well,” church leaders explained as The Christian Post reports. “We believe that God can change people, and we believe that God has forgiven Bro. Phillip as well.”
The Southern Baptist Convention does not have authority over local churches or ability to enact some measures or rules. so all it can do is to remove a church from the convention if it is not adhering to what is expected of them as a Southern Baptist church. That is what Southern Baptist Executive Committee did with Ranchland Heights, but the decision is not yet final and the church can appeal the Executive Committee's decision up until 30 days before the beginning of the Committee’s next Annual Meeting on June 9th.