Judge in Schiavo case withdraws membership from church

CLEARWATER, Fla. (BP)--Judge George Greer -- whose rulings set the March 18 removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube -- has withdrawn his membership at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla.

William E. Rice, who became Calvary’s pastor last September, confirmed that a letter from Greer withdrawing his longstanding membership was received by the church March 17.

Rice, in an interview with Baptist Press March 18, said he sent a letter to Greer several days after the judge commented about his church involvement in a front-page article in the St. Petersburg Times March 6.

In his exchange of letters with Greer, Rice said, “We communicated about his relationship with the church and his public statements that he had withdrawn from the church and statements that he had made in the paper about his relationship with the church. We communicated about the nature of his commitment to the church and what he wanted that to be in the future.”

Rice, who himself was a member of Calvary as a teenager years ago, said he offered to meet with Greer but instead received the judge’s letter withdrawing his membership.

The St. Petersburg Times, in its March 6 article, reported:

“Greer is a Southern Baptist who attended Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater. But his attendance faltered after a Baptist publication the church supported became highly critical of him, he said.

“Greer, who said he had other unrelated problems with the church, said he explained to a deacon, ‘If I don’t like what the St. Pete Times writes about me, my only recourse is to cancel my subscription.’ So he stopped his donations to the church, though he is still a member.”

The publication Greer was referring to is the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, which first editorialized about the Schiavo case in September 2003 and since has carried several editorials and an extended number of breaking news stories and in-depth reports about the right-to-life case that has generated national and international attention in recent months.

Calvary, with about 1,500 in worship on Sundays, utilizes the Florida Baptist Witness to carry its monthly newsletter to church members.

Concerning Greer’s comments in the St. Petersburg Times, Rice told Baptist Press, “I felt like that opened the door for me to write him and ask what kind of relationship he desired to have with the church.”

The pastor said he prefers not to release the correspondence with Greer, viewing it as “a private communiqué between him and his pastor.” Rice said he sent copies of his letter to Greer both at home and at the courthouse and realizes the letter might be made public if deemed to be court-related correspondence.

Rice said he has informed the church’s deacons via e-mail of Greer’s withdrawal of his membership.

A column by Rice challenging the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was published by the Florida Baptist Witness online March 14 and in its print edition March 17. Rice said Greer did not reference the column and may not have read it when he wrote his letter withdrawing his membership from the church.

“Our church has not had an antagonistic relationship with Judge Greer,” and he has not been publicly criticized in any church gathering, Rice said. “He has friends at the church on a personal level,” the pastor added.

Rice, in his column in the Florida Baptist Witness, commended the weekly Baptist newspaper, noting, “The facts of the case are well known and few have done as admirable a job of reporting them as has Florida Baptist Witness.”

James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, told Baptist Press March 18, “My editorials and our news coverage have focused on the facts and ethical implications of this case and not at all concerning Judge Greer’s personal faith commitment or his church membership.”

Smith said he did not become aware of Greer’s membership at Calvary until after he had written a second editorial on the Schiavo case later in September 2003.

“The Witness stands by all of its editorials and news coverage on the Terri Schiavo matter,” Smith said. “I remain convinced, especially in light of events of the last few days, of the critical importance of this case for the sanctity of human life in our state and in our nation.”

Smith also told Baptist Press, “It appears that Judge Greer has chosen to remove himself from the loving care of a biblically sound church rather than to submit to the biblical obligation to exercise his public duties in a manner that is consistent with his Christian faith. This is regrettable for Judge Greer because he could not be better served than to be under the teaching of Dr. Rice.

“Dr. Rice is to be commended for his courageous defense of Terri Schiavo in spite of the difficult circumstances related to his now-former church member’s involvement,” Smith said. “I believe that other Southern Baptist churches would be well-served to follow the model of Dr. Rice in the manner in which he has dealt with this difficult situation.”


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