On Sunday, the Rev. Paul R. Williams Jr. became the first openly gay minister to be fired from his church in a state that banned gay marriage.
The Tennessee Valley Conference, which owns and operates the Nashville-based church, said Williams was fired on Sunday after the congregation voted to approve a resolution opposing gay marriage in November.
The resolution was approved by a small group of congregants.
Williams was not formally dismissed, but he was dismissed on grounds that he violated church policies that prohibit him from using social media to promote gay marriage, the conference said in a statement.
Williams is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Memphis and has served as a pastor for more than 25 years.
The church has more than 30,000 members.
The denomination does not comment on personnel matters.
“We have a responsibility to the members of the church and we have a duty to the church to ensure that we are as open and transparent as we possibly can be,” Williams said in the statement.
The Nashville-area church has a long history of activism and civil rights activism.
Williams had been pastor at the church for about 20 years before being removed, according to the statement from the Nashville First Baptist.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest denomination in the United States, said Sunday it was investigating the church’s firing of Williams.
“The Southern Baptist General Conference condemns any such actions,” the statement said.
“There is no place for discrimination against anyone on the basis of their sexual orientation in the church or in any other church.”
The Southern Baptists, a Protestant denomination, have long been criticized for being slow to acknowledge same-sex marriage and for holding a variety of views on gay rights, from opposing to endorsing.
The group was also criticized for the church closing its First Baptist Chapel in Shelby, Tennessee, where the congregation has been headquartered for decades.
The congregation’s pastor, Pastor Kevin Swanson, who is openly gay, said that when the Southern Baptist Church decided to open its first congregation, it did not recognize the church.
“I think that is a very big problem for the Southern Baptist Church because there are people out there who are not comfortable coming out of the closet,” Swanson said on “America’s Newsroom.”
“The idea that a church would be open about gay people is not a good thing for the gay community, it is a bad thing for any community.”
Swanson said that the Southern Conference has taken the issue of discrimination very seriously and that the denomination has worked with LGBT people, including some pastors, to create the church-sanctioned Gay and Lesbian Center.
The center was created to provide training and support for pastors who wish to work with LGBT parishioners.
“In terms of our pastoral efforts, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is always looking for ways to bring people together, to make sure that they are not isolated, that they have a sense of community and that they feel valued and supported,” Swanson added.
In the same interview with “Americas Newsroom,” Swanson, a former pastor, also said he believes the Southern conference will make progress in the fight against homophobia.
“It is a great challenge and it is not something that can be taken lightly,” he said.
But he said the Southern group does not have enough resources to support LGBT people.
“What we have to do is go after the structural causes of discrimination, which are really the ones that really get people in trouble,” Swanson explained.
“If you look at the history of the Southern American church, it was built on white supremacy, and that white supremacy has gone back hundreds of years and continues to this day.”