Texas Baptists consider when and how to exclude congregations

Messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting vote on business matters during a Nov. 14 session. (Photo / Robert Rogers / Baylor University Marketing Communications)

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WACO—Texas Baptists will consider whether a church’s affirmation of same-sex marriage is grounds to declare the congregation outside the bounds of cooperation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Messengers to the BGCT annual meeting in Waco also will weigh whether decisions about considering a church out of fellowship with the state convention should require a two-thirds vote of the BGCT Executive Board.

Motions introduced in miscellaneous business

Two pastors introduced motions related to when and how churches should be considered out of “harmonious cooperation” with the BGCT during the introduction of miscellaneous business at the first business session of Texas Baptists’ annual meeting.

Messengers will deal with items introduced during miscellaneous business when they reconvene on Tuesday morning, Nov. 15.

Craig Christina, pastor of Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church in Dallas, introduced a motion stating: “Texas Baptist churches are loving, respectful, and welcoming to all people.  However, our position on biblical marriage has not changed. Therefore, I move that because of the historical and biblical positions of the BGCT as stated in multiple resolutions, motions and actions, that any church which affirms any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a marriage between one man and one woman be considered out of harmonious cooperation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.”

Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, introduced a motion clarifying a decision to declare a church outside of “harmonious cooperation” with the BGCT should require a supermajority vote by the Executive Board and stipulating that resolutions adopted in annual meetings are not binding on individual congregations.

Well’s motion states: “Whereas the Baptist General Convention of Texas is composed of autonomous local churches in voluntary, harmonious cooperation to fund and execute ministry for the kingdom of God; and whereas harmonious cooperation is comprised of three actions on the part of the churches—prayer, financial support of the convention, and engagement in the ministry of the convention;

“And whereas from time to time the convention shall make resolutions that express the conviction of the messengers present and voting; and whereas the Baptist commitment to local church autonomy means that no resolution made by the convention is binding on any congregation;

“And whereas there may come, in extraordinary circumstances, a need for the convention to remove a congregation from participation in the funding of and engagement in the ministry of the convention;

“Be it therefore resolved that the convention reserves to itself exclusively, through a two-thirds vote of its Executive Board, the authority to remove a congregation from harmonious cooperation.”

BGCT officials serve notice to two congregations

A few days before the annual meeting, BGCT officials placed two churches on notice that an affirming stance toward LGBT members puts them outside the bounds of “harmonious cooperation” with the state convention. BGCT Executive Director David Hardage, BGCT President René Maciel and Executive Board Chairman David Russell sent letters Nov. 8 to First Baptist Church in Austin and Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas.

The letter to Wilshire framed the congregation’s relationship to the BGCT in terms of “potential withdrawal,” saying, “Should your church choose to publicly affirm same-sex sexual behavior, the BGCT will no longer be able to accept funds from the church, seat its messengers to the annual meeting, allow the church to express affiliation with the BGCT or allow its members to serve on the BGCT boards, committees or other roles.”

Citing previous actions and resolutions

The letter cited previous Executive Board actions and resolutions adopted by messengers to annual meetings, declaring the Bible teaches any sexual relations outside the bounds of a male/female marriage are sinful.

So, it said, any church that essentially affirms other types of sexual relationships “effectively chooses to withdraw itself from harmonious cooperation with the churches of the convention.”

A resolution at the 1982 BGCT annual meeting stated, “The homosexual lifestyle is not normal or acceptable in God’s sight and is indeed called sin.”

In 1996, the BGCT Executive Board approved a report from its Messenger Seating Study Committee that said: “The Bible teaches that the ideal for sexual behavior is the marital union between husband and wife and that all other sexual relations—whether premarital, extramarital or homosexual—are contrary to God’s purposes and thus sinful. Homosexual practice is therefore in conflict with the Bible.”

In 1998, the convention’s Administrative Committee and Executive Board voted to decline any financial contributions from University Baptist Church in Austin after the congregation ordinated a gay man as a deacon. Messengers to the BGCT annual meeting subsequently affirmed the action. The recommendation as approved dealt not only with University Baptist, but also “any church which openly endorses moral views in conflict with biblical teaching.”

The BGCT Executive Board in 2010 took similar action toward Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, saying the congregation’s decision to ordain gay deacons placed it outside the BGCT understanding of biblical sexual ethics.

First Baptist in Austin welcoming and affirming

A diversity statement on the First Baptist Church of Austin website states the congregation “welcomes and wants people of every race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age, physical and mental ability, nationality, and economic station to thrive in the full life of our community; (and) affirms and celebrates all people as created in God’s very image and likeness.”

In a Nov. 2 article in The Clarion, the church’s newsletter, Pastor Griff Martin writes: “It might be helpful for us to think about our history and the bridges that we have crossed: our move from the old property to this new property, the bridge that lead us away from the Southern Baptist Convention, and the bridge from a system of only male leadership to equal leadership between genders. All the way to our most recent bridge of inclusivity, where we bravely walked into a place that too few Baptist churches have yet crossed over, saying that at First Austin, all are welcome and all are equal.

“This bridge has lead us to perform same-sex weddings, ordain LBGTQ+ deacons, and has helped create a safe space in the Baptist world for a group that was often excluded. Crossing that bridge has not come without cost. We have lost folks who did not agree and have begun to understand this stance may cost us our place in some of our affiliations.”

Wilshire extends full participation to LGBT members

Prior to the BGCT annual meeting, members of Wilshire had been in the process of voting on a resolution to affirm the church’s “existing bylaws, which provide for a single class of membership.” The final vote was held the day before the BGCT annual meeting started, but it was not tallied and results were not announced prior to the state convention’s meeting.

Wilshire approved the resolution by a 61 percent favorable vote, Pastor George Mason announced Monday afternoon.

“When Wilshire adopted its vision and values statements during our Vision 20/20 strategic planning process, ‘inclusion’ was the highest value listed by church respondents,” Mason wrote in an email to church members. “Many wondered what that meant and whether it extended to the full participation of members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The answer to that is now ‘yes,’ and LGBT Christian friends inside and outside our church will see this as a sign of deep acceptance by the people of God.”

Call for inclusion

Mason issued a call for inclusion, extending to the sizable minority in the congregation who voted against the resolution.

“Extending full privileges and equal responsibilities to LGBT Christians does not mean restricting or marginalizing anyone else, including those who disagree. Wilshire’s history shows that being found in Christ is the chief way we look upon one another in the church. All other modifiers come after that,” he wrote. “We will not allow our church to become focused on this one issue. We will continue to pursue our whole mission together, along with our vision to be a bold witness for the way of Christ in our time.”

Mason acknowledged the vote placed Wilshire’s relationship to the BGCT in question.

“The BGCT has made public what we have sought to keep a church matter out of respect for them and for those who have struggled with the process within our church,” he wrote. “We will take up the matter of our relationship to the BGCT on our own terms in the near future, as cooperation with such bodies is voluntary and springs primarily from the church to the convention, rather than the other way round.”

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