Another Texas congregation has joined the ranks of moderate and progressive Baptists moving toward full inclusion of LGBT Christians, setting up potential conflict with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, amended bylaws Nov. 30 to identify as “a welcoming and affirming community” accepting “all persons into membership and full participation in the life and ministry of our congregation.”
The vote, taken after an 18-month discernment process, came two weeks after the BGCT officially declared 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 4,100-church organization representing 2 million Baptists founded in 1885.
The BGCT vote followed actions by two high-profile Texas Baptist churches changing policies to treat all church members equally, regardless of their sexual orientation. During debate some messengers warned that ouster of prestigious longtime members like First Baptist Church of Austin and Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas might portend further division as more and more congregations re-evaluate traditional church teaching that all same-sex relationships are contrary to God’s will.
The Lake Shore Baptist Church bylaw change doesn’t specifically mention sexual orientation, but a Dallas woman who grew up in the congregation knowing she was gay but no longer identifies as a Christian said she “knew immediately” what the policy meant.
“I’ve always known the church I grew up in to be accepting, but to see the words written and to read the commitment this church wants to make to me and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters is something to be celebrated,” theatre artist Kelsey Leigh Ervi wrote for a group blog sponsored by Act Locally Waco.
Lake Shore Baptist Church has a long tradition of being on the leading edge of social change. The congregation approved the election of women as deacons in 1975 and called its first woman as pastor in 2002. Lake Shore voluntarily withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention 15 years ago, citing differences over “the equality of women, the separation of church and state, social ministry and ecumenical cooperation.”
Pastor Kyndall Rothaus told the Waco Tribune-Herald it is likely the church will now be asked to leave the BGCT. She said that could create problems for a small number of people who attend Lake Shore while receiving scholarships from the state convention to attend George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University.
Joshua Minatrea, communications director for the BGCT, said any decision regarding how the church relates to the state convention will be determined by the BGCT executive board.
Rothaus, a 31-year-old graduate of Truett Seminary, said Lake Shore Baptist Church was already considering its stance on the LGBT community when she became pastor about a year ago, but she was pleased the congregation approved the amendment by a majority of nearly 85 percent.
Rothaus told the Waco newspaper she believes the change will lead to church growth. “I’ve met a number of people in the Waco community, just in the last year, who had left churches because they felt like the message they were hearing was one of judgment and exclusion,” she said. “I have people approach me frequently who say they are experiencing spiritual healing when they see a church like Lake Shore that preaches the gospel of love that extends to everyone.”
In addition to its affiliation with the BGCT, Lake Shore collaborates with organizations including The Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Baptist World Alliance.