Commentary: Disappointing disfellowship of Broadway

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The Southern Baptist Convention’s decision last week to disfellowship Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas, is a disappointing conclusion to a year-long attempt to remain in friendly cooperation with the denomination.

Last summer, a motion was made by a North Carolina pastor to remove Broadway from the Southern Baptist Convention on the grounds that the church was in violation of Article III of the SBC Constitution, which prohibits churches from taking any action “to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” The unprecedented and ill-conceived motion was referred to the denomination’s Executive Committee.

The Cliburn organ in Broadway's sanctuary is the largest in Texas.

It should have been ruled out of order. The individual making the motion never made any formal contact with Broadway. Furthermore, the authority for faith and practice of local Baptist churches rests with those local congregations—not with the central denominational office.

As the readers of this publication well know, one of the bedrock doctrines of Baptist theology is the “autonomy of the local church.” While we respect our Christian sisters and brothers in other ecclesial systems with centralized offices, Baptists have always located spiritual authority within the individual congregation. Baptist polity has always moved from the bottom up—never from the top down.

Until now.

It became clear early on from the Executive Committee that they knew they were on thin theological ice. They not only recognized the inherent violation of dictating policy to a local congregation, but they also seemed to appreciate the complexity and diversity of membership in all our churches. Indeed, several committee members privately acknowledged the presence of homosexual members in their own congregations. Broadway’s consistent, direct testimony before the Executive Committee was that we had taken no formal congregational action that would constitute noncompliance with denominational bylaws.

A gracious disposition toward Broadway developed. Broadway’s arguments before the Executive Committee were received with respect and careful engagement. Proper deference by all involved was given to Broadway’s prominent, historic place in Baptist life. A number of leaders throughout the Southern Baptist Convention privately and helpfully advocated Broadway’s continued friendly cooperation.

But in the final weeks leading up to their annual meeting in Louisville, it became apparent that, once again, the hardline position would win the day and the Southern Baptist Convention would miss yet another critical opportunity to soften its stance and take a small step to repair its negative, intolerant image in American public life. At that time, the Executive Committee began more pointedly suggesting measures Broadway viewed as intrusive into the integrity of her own congregational life.

The recommendation to disfellowship Broadway was unanimously passed in the Executive Committee. It was approved by the convention without discussion. Not even one lone solitary dissenting voice. Such uniformity of thought and silence of conscience means that the true Baptist pulse barely beats anymore in the SBC.

I have completed my tenure as interim pastor at Broadway. The church has just called Brent Beasley as senior pastor. Pastor Beasley begins his ministry on July 1. He and the congregation will continue Broadway’s rich legacy of compassionate communal outreach and inspirational choral music for the city of Fort Worth and beyond.

They will do this high and holy work in continued friendly cooperation with their fellow Baptists, Christians of other denominations, and all persons of goodwill, regardless of creed, color or condition.

And we will all continue to pray for the day when our Southern Baptist family quits wandering in the wilderness of forced conformity and returns to the long-promised land of free and voluntary cooperation in building the Kingdom of God.

Charles Foster Johnson has just completed the interim pastorate of the Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth.

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