Messengers cease relationship with Ft. Worth church over homosexuality

LOUISVILLE, Ky.–Southern Baptist Convention messengers on June 23 voted to cease the denomination’s relationship with Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth “until such time as the church unambiguously demonstrates” its compliance with the SBC constitution regarding homosexual behavior.

The recommendation from the Executive Committee passed on the floor nearly unanimously with no discussion, capping an almost year-long study of the church’s stance that began last year when a messenger made a motion asking that the convention declare Broadway Baptist as “not in friendly cooperation” with the denomination.

At issue was whether the church was in violation of Article III of the SBC constitution, which states that churches “which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” are not in friendly cooperation.

Broadway Baptist has approximately five openly homosexual members, including two male couples, according to church members, with several serving on church committees. News of the homosexual members became public in late 2007 when the church was deciding whether or not to include the same-sex couples in a church directory.

In the end, the church voted 294-182 to publish a directory without family portraits but with candid shots of members involved in various ministries and activities.

AMBIGUITY
Following a series of letters between the Executive Committee and the church, the matter appeared to reach a dead end in a May 21 letter from the church deacons to Executive Committee staff counsel D. August (Augie) Boto that referred to “innuendo and gossip” and then acknowledged, “that we, like most other churches, have a few gay members.”

“We do not inquire about sexual orientation when people present themselves for membership,” but the church does require a profession of faith followed by believer’s baptism, the letter stated, adding that the church has not acted to “affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” nor does it “intend to do so.”

“Broadway Baptist Church desires to maintain its longstanding and historic affiliation with the SBC,” the letter stated.

Roger “Sing” Oldham, Executive Committee vice president for convention relations, told the TEXAN the committee saw “an ambiguity between [Broadway’s] written comments and the actual practices of the church” that was never resolved.

Stephen Wilson, a member of the Executive Committee and vice president for academic affairs at Mid-Continent University, emphasized to Baptist Press that the denomination encourages churches to reach out to people struggling with homosexuality. The issue with Broadway Baptist, though, is over a church allowing members who are homosexual and unrepentant, he said.

“If churches are ministering to homosexuals, they are doing nothing more than what our own convention’s task force has asked us to do,” Wilson told Baptist Press. “But in Broadway’s case … the church was in effect saying that it was OK to have members who are open homosexuals.”

Various Executive Committee workgroups and subcommittees studied the issue during their September and February meetings but delayed action to further study the issue.

Although members of Broadway Baptist appeared at the February meeting, none appeared at an Executive Committee meeting on June 22 in Louisville. Some members of the workgroup and subcommittee said in February that they would welcome a statement from the church on homosexuality to clarify its position on the issue. The church chose not to make any such statement.

The recommendation approved by messengers says that the “cooperative relationship between the Convention and the church” is ceasing “and that the church’s messengers not be seated, until such time as the church unambiguously demonstrates its friendly cooperation with the Convention under Article III.”

Wilson noted that some outside observers criticized the Executive Committee for delaying action at two previous meetings. He, though, said he had no regrets and that “it has always been our hope there could be reconciliation.”

“This was not a rush to judgment. We actually wanted?from the bottom of my heart?for this to be resolved by the local church where the convention wouldn’t have to be involved in any way,” said Wilson, who serves as chairman of a workgroup that studied the issue. “… I think [in February] there was a feeling that maybe this could be solved without having to go through the step that we had to do today.”

Wilson said the church’s actions ran counter to what it claimed in its correspondence.

“[I[t was more from what they were actually doing in practice where the conflict was,” Wilson said. “While they didn’t officially endorse it, they were allowing members and also people in leadership that were homosexual.”

The church’s interim pastor, Charles Johnson, appeared before an Executive Committee workgroup at February’s meeting. Since then, the church has called a new pastor, Brent Beasley.

After the convention vote, Johnson criticized the convention’s decision on his Internet blog, stating that the “SBC remains Baptist in name only.”

“It became clear several weeks ago from the Executive Committee that Broadway would have to implement measures to identify, isolate, and distinguish our gay and lesbian members from the rest of the congregation in order to be found in friendly cooperation. Of course, conscience, congregational autonomy, and common decency prohibit us from doing so.”

He added: “Every Southern Baptist church of any size has homosexual members. These friends pray with us, sing with us, give with us, serve with us, and take the Body and Blood of Christ at the table of the Lord with us. Will the test imposed upon Broadway by the denomination now be required of all the churches?”

David Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church in Canyon and president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, told BP he had hoped Broadway Baptist would do more to make clear it opposed homosexuality. He said he had discussions with church leaders and that his involvement was “more as a pastor than as the president” of the BGCT. Lowrie said he told church leadership “that they needed to take a step beyond just making a public declaration” in a letter.

“They needed to actually express those convictions in some practical way,” he said. “They, for whatever reason, weren’t able to do that…. I felt that here were things that they could have done to minister to those within their church fellowship that struggled with those issues and other issues.”

He said he thought a ministry within the church to help people with “unhealthy lifestyles” would have helped clarify the matter.

The pastor who led the church during the church directory controversy—Brett Younger—resigned in June 2008 to take a position at McAfee School of Theology in Georgia. He left the church after a vote to oust him failed, 68-32 percent. But the desire by some to remove Younger had less to do with the issue of homosexuality and more to do with a host of other issues, church members said.

Younger seemingly approved of the acceptance of homosexuality in church life. He delivered a sermon Dec. 2, 2007, explaining both sides of the debate over whether homosexuality is a sin. In the end, he said, God’s people will “serve together in the unity of God’s diversity.”

Texan Staff & Baptist Press
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