ATLANTA, April 18 -- Representatives of 18 Southern Baptist churches, dissatisfied that two gay-supportive churches remain members of the Atlanta Baptist Association, formed a new association Tuesday night.

The 50-plus people gathered at Rehoboth Baptist Church in Tucker elected the Rev. Bill Jaggar, pastor of the 1,000-member North Peachtree Baptist Church in Doraville, as interim moderator of the new Metro-Atlanta Southern Baptist Association.

"I have great confidence that God's hand is upon us," Jaggar said after the meeting.

The new group was formed after the Atlanta Baptist Association, which represents 99,000 people in more than 100 congregations, failed in two votes this year to expel Oakhurst and Virginia-Highland churches, both known as gay-affirming churches. The two churches were dismissed from the Georgia Baptist Convention in 1999.

But Jaggar said he does not want the new association to be known "as anti-anyone."

"We're pro-kingdom of God, pro-Southern Baptist Convention, pro-Georgia Baptist Convention, pro-winning souls to Jesus," he said.

Bylaws require that member churches in the new association abide by the Baptist Faith and Message, a statement of faith adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention last year that opposes homosexuality, abortion and racism and states that wives should be submissive to their husbands and that husbands should love their wives.

The bylaws do not specifically address the issues of same-sex commitment ceremonies or ordination of gay men and lesbians to church offices, but leaders promised those matters will be covered in a manual of procedure to accompany the bylaws.

If 15 congregations have completed the paperwork to become charter members of the new association by May 10, the group will be able to seek official recognition at the annual meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention in November. A vote at two state meetings is required.

But the association will begin functioning while in the application process. Jaggar said its leaders will ask the state convention for a $25,000 grant for start-up costs.

The association will also apply to the Georgia Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention for mission funds previously channeled through the Atlanta Baptist Association, said the Rev. Tim Clark of 1,000-member Pine Lake Baptist Church, who presided over the Tuesday meeting.

Both the state convention and the mission board cut off funds to the Atlanta Baptist Association because of its failure to dismiss Oakhurst and Virginia-Highland.

The new association will also begin receiving funds immediately from member churches, some of which have been significant contributors to the Atlanta Baptist Association.

The new association will overlap the geographic area of the Atlanta Baptist Association, covering the area inside I-285 and within 10 miles outside in all directions.

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