The Baptist General Convention of Texas’ Executive Board faces some serious decisions when it holds its winter meeting in Dallas next week. Will it follow the will of messengers to the 2016 BGCT annual meeting and remove churches not in “harmonious cooperation” with the convention?
Two votes at the annual meeting in Waco—both defining “harmonious cooperation”—provided the background for Texas Baptists’ biggest news story last year.
Most memorably, one vote drove a stake in the ground. It marked the convention’s position on one of the biggest cultural issues in the United States today—how to relate to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, particularly in the church.
Shortly before the annual meeting, BGCT leaders sent letters to First Baptist Church in Austin and Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, notifying them an affirming stance toward LGBT members would put them outside the bounds of cooperation with the state convention.
Two motions, one definition
At the annual meeting, two motions asked messengers to define what being in cooperation with the BGCT actually means.
Notably, one motion addressed First Austin, Wilshire and the LGBT issue head on. It stated, “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.”
After numerous discussions of parliamentary procedure and a couple of attempts at voting, the motion passed. The BGCT’s legal position now states any church that “affirms any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a marriage between one man and one woman” is out of the convention.
Despite trends toward LGBT acceptance and affirmation in society and among many congregations, that is the state convention’s long-held position. Its passage—while disappointing to a little less than half the messengers—was not surprising, given the convention’s history.
Two issues to consider
However, the LGBT statement was only one of two motions about convention membership approved by messengers in Waco.
Messengers more strongly affirmed a motion that said, “the convention reserves to itself exclusively, through a two-thirds vote of its Executive Board, the authority to remove a congregation from harmonious cooperation.” That motion also defined “harmonious cooperation” as “comprised of three actions on the part of the churches—prayer, financial support of the convention and engagement in ministry of the convention.”
Consequently, the Executive Board convenes next Monday and Tuesday with two issues before it: What to do with churches whose actions affirm sexual relations outside of one man/one woman marriage. But also what to do with churches that do not pray for the convention, financially support the convention and engage in the ministry of the convention.
Will the Executive Board take the motion that defines “harmonious cooperation” according to prayer, financial support and engagement as seriously as it takes the motion about LGBT affirmation? The motion about prayer, contributions and engagement received more votes.
Tracking “harmonious cooperation”
Of course, prayer is hard to document. Can we actually know how many congregations conduct prayer on behalf of the convention? Probably not.
But money is easier to track. The numbers still are preliminary, but only about 3,200—about 60 percent—of the BGCT’s 5,300 affiliated congregations contributed to the Cooperative Program unified budget for Texas causes last year. Those figures are in line with recent years.
Engagement is harder to calculate, since opportunities for involvement with the convention are varied. But if participation at the annual meeting is any indicator, churches that don’t actually contribute to convention causes are unlikely to get points for engagement. In 2015, only 383 churches—7 percent of the total—sent messengers to the annual meeting. The year before that, 9 percent of churches were represented.
So, what will the Executive Board do?
Without question, LGBT-affirming congregations are out.
But what about non-involved, non-supporting congregations? Some are poor; many are non-Anglo. They elicit sympathy.
But through all the parliamentary hand-wringing in Waco, the messengers voted to require prayer, contributions and engagement in order to be called a harmoniously cooperative Texas Baptist church.
Perhaps the Executive Board can use the new ruling to urge churches to step up. But if not, will the new standards be applied?
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