INDIANAPOLIS (ABP) — A Fort Worth, Texas, church, which long ago cut back its support of the Southern Baptist Convention, nonetheless could be ousted from that body because it welcomes homosexuals.
The possible ouster of Broadway Baptist Church, along with a move to expel churches with female pastors, may signal that the Southern Baptist Convention wants to further narrow the meaning of “friendly cooperation.”
Bill Sanderson, pastor of Hepzibah Baptist Church in Wendell, N.C., made a motion at the SBC's annual meeting in Indianapolis asking messengers to declare Broadway Baptist Church not “in friendly cooperation” with the convention — which is the constitutional language describing membership.
The church, founded in 1882, has quietly included homosexuals in its congregation for several years. But a public dispute among church members over a pictorial directory — and the pastor's subsequent resignation — brought the issue to the attention of Baptists nationwide, including Southern Baptist leaders who want to ban churches that affirm gays.
Sanderson's motion, like the one targeting female pastors, was referred to the SBC Executive Committee, which handles the business of the convention during the rest of the year.
If eventually approved by the SBC next year, the effect of the motion would be to expel Broadway Baptist from the convention. But motions referred to the Executive Committee often result in no action.
The SBC's constitution already prohibits churches that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior” from affiliating with the convention.
Rather than punishing only churches that send messengers to the annual meeting, the motion targeting Broadway could take SBC scrutiny to a new level by seeking out churches that violate the SBC's constitution.
The motion targeting female pastors would again amend the SBC's constitution to disallow affiliation by “churches which have female senior pastors.” It's not known how many SBC churches have female pastors.
The convention's Baptist Faith and Message doctrinal statement asserts “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” But Southern Baptists have not paired that declaration with a constitutional prohibition against churches with female pastors.
At the Indianapolis meeting, convention officials avoided a showdown over Broadway Baptist. Since the Texas church did not send messengers to the Indianapolis meeting, the order of business committee determined the convention did not face a credentials issue. But it suggested compliance with the SBC's constitutional policy against affiliating with churches that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior” merits study.
Although some churches have been reprimanded at the national level in the past, the convention's handling of the Broadway incident is unusual. Broadway sent no messengers to this year's session, nor has it done so for several years. Generally, the SBC has refrained from interfering with affiliated churches unless the seating of its messengers is challenged at an annual meeting.
Baptist historian Lloyd Allen, a professor at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, cannot recall a similar occurrence. “They usually refuse to seat a church's messengers, rather than for the church to be censured without messengers there.”
The convention has attempted to reprimand churches over the homosexual issue in the past. In 1999, messengers proposed two motions against Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., former President Bill Clinton's home church.
That year Clinton had issued a proclamation to declare June as “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.” One motion at the annual meeting “formally suggested” the Little Rock congregation exercise church discipline against Clinton. The other requested the church's formal position on the president's policies. Both were ruled out of order.
Broadway members determined a number of years ago to funnel most undesignated receipts through the Baptist General Convention of Texas, with a percentage for state ministries and a percentage passing to the national CBF.
The church has maintained a budget line item for cooperative giving, a piece of which is earmarked for the SBC in order to maintain membership. Church members also can designate gifts to the SBC.
The Executive Committee could reject the motion or investigate the church and return a recommendation to messengers to the 2009 annual session in Louisville, Ky. According to news reports, Broadway's leaders intend to cooperate with any SBC investigation.
The debate over Broadway's pictorial directory began last fall when a few gay couples showed up to have their pictures taken together. Some members felt that allowing the photos of the couples as families pushed the church from its “welcoming” stance to “affirming” homosexual behavior. Others saw refusal to include gay couples as demeaning.
The church ultimately determined to publish a historical booklet with directory information, but it would not include photographs of families.
Some members formed Friends for the Future of Broadway to challenge then-pastor Brett Younger's leadership on a number of other issues. The group called for a vote to oust Younger, but 200 other members signed a counter petition to oppose his firing.
In March, a motion to fire Younger failed. In April, he resigned as pastor to accept a post as an associate professor of preaching at McAfee. He said his decision to leave Broadway was based on his desire to teach, not on the controversy. He preached his final sermon at the Fort Worth church on June 8.