Two more churches have been expelled from the Baptist General Convention of Texas “due to their public affirmation of same-sex sexuality,” the convention announced June 8.
This announcement of the results of a closed meeting of the BGCT Executive Board May 23 came after Baptist News Global inquired about the fate of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio and Second Baptist Church in Lubbock.
Expulsion of the two churches had not been previously reported as an action taken at the Executive Board meeting, although many other actions were reported the next day under the headline, “In Texas As It Is in Heaven.”
Pastors of both congregations have confirmed to BNG they were notified by letter of their churches’ removal from the state convention.
BGCT’s history of anti-gay actions
The BGCT is the largest of the autonomous state Baptist conventions that partner with the Southern Baptist Convention. Once a state convention resistant to the conservative course of the SBC in the 1980s and 1990s, the BGCT in more recent years has lined up with most of the conservative theological and social positions of the SBC.
One of those areas of agreement is zero tolerance of welcoming LGBTQ Christians into the full life of the church.
That gained full expression in 2016, when the BGCT annual meeting fell within a few days of a vote by Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome all people equally into the life of the church. Between the two Sundays of voting on this issue at Wilshire, BGCT officials sent a letter to the church threatening expulsion if the vote went as anticipated.
“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.”
Less than two weeks later, messengers to the BGCT annual meeting in Waco adopted a motion that said, “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.”
A second motion established a process for removing churches, assigning that task to the Executive Board.
With that action, Wilshire and First Baptist Church of Austin were effectively expelled, confirmed by Executive Board action in February. By then, Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco also was added to the expulsion list.
But these three congregations were not the first churches to be expelled from the BGCT over sexuality. Their expulsion just defined the process.
In 1998, the BGCT Executive Board withdrew fellowship from University Baptist Church in Austin after the church ordained a gay deacon. In 2010, BGCT leaders disfellowshipped Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas, finding the ordination of openly gay deacons placed the church “outside the BGCT understanding of biblical and historic views on sexual ethics.”
Also in 2010, Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth broke ties with the BGCT before the convention could vote to expel the church in light of its action against Royal Lane earlier that year.
This is not a new experience for Garrett Vickrey, pastor of Woodland Baptist Church. He grew up at Royal Lane Baptist Church, where his father, Ray Vickrey, was the longtime pastor, although the BGCT expulsion came after that time. Garrett Vickrey also is a former pastoral resident at Wilshire, where his father-in-law, George Mason, was the longtime pastor serving at the time of the BGCT expulsion.
Woodland’s pastor notified his congregation of the BGCT action in an email June 8.
He explained: “On May 2, I received a call from Bruce McCoy, the director of the Cooperative Program of the BGCT. They had heard a rumor that Woodland was an ‘open and affirming church.’ Open and affirming churches welcome LGBTQ individuals and affirm their dignity as being made in the image of God, thereby opening up avenues of service and leadership within their congregations. Open and affirming churches open Communion and ordinances to LGBTQ individuals and have typically made a public statement to that end.”
In that call, Vickrey told BNG, he told McCoy the church had not adopted any official policy on LGBTQ inclusion. McCoy then asked him if he personally was in agreement with the BGCT position, and Vickrey said no.
A month later, Vickrey received a letter saying his congregation had been expelled.
“This creates a curious wrinkle in BGCT’s process, whereby any church that does not publicly consent to the BGCT’s theology is liable for dismissal.”
In the email to his congregation, Vickery wrote: “What has Woodland done officially in terms of LGBTQ inclusion? Officially, we have not put a barrier before membership. We do not ask new members to check a ‘biblical sexuality box’ on our membership cards. We do not question prospective members or candidates for ordination about relationship status or sexual practice. We try to treat all people with dignity and respect. We look at the fruit of their lives. We ask that they proclaim Jesus as Lord of their life. But we haven’t made a public inclusion statement as other churches have who have been disfellowshipped by the BGCT. This creates a curious wrinkle in BGCT’s process, whereby any church that does not publicly consent to the BGCT’s theology is liable for dismissal.”
Vickrey also explained to his congregation that the BGCT’s Acting Executive Director, Craig Christina, is the one who made the motion to expel Wilshire and First Baptist Austin in 2016. At the time, Christina served as pastor of Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church in Austin.
Three years after taking that public stand against Wilshire and First Baptist Austin, Christina was elected associate executive director of the BGCT. Now he’s acting executive director due to the recent retirement of David Hardage as the convention’s leader.
Hardage came to that role from the staff of Baylor University’s Truett Seminary, which also has a non-affirming stance. Baylor, as a university, has been fraught with controversy over its attempts to walk a fine line on LGBTQ acceptance, signaling that gay and lesbian students are welcome but still could be expelled if they violate the university’s sexual purity code.
That’s why some critics of the latest round of BGCT expulsions are raising questions about why the Dallas and Lubbock churches were expelled but some Waco churches that are equally affirming were not expelled.
In 2019, University Baptist Church in Waco voluntarily exited BGCT affiliation because the church adopted a welcoming stance toward LGBTQ Christians. That put some Baylor students and faculty in a bind because some student scholarships, particularly at Truett, are tied to the recipients being members of BGCT churches.
At the time, Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said it is “anticipated that full-time faculty members at Truett Seminary will worship at a BGCT-affiliated church,” although there is no written requirement that they do.
As to the apparent selective expulsion of LGBTQ-affirming churches, sources close to the convention said the answer lies in the process adopted in 2016. To be expelled, churches must be reported to the Executive Board, then investigated.
Vickrey told his San Antonio congregation: “The BGCT now has a new slate of churches it is ready to disfellowship, and we are on the list. It’s likely a few more churches with (Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) ties will be disfellowshipped in the coming months.”
“Unfortunately, this vote from the BGCT says much more about them than us.”
He acknowledged not everyone at Woodland shares the same views on LGBTQ inclusion.
“I think that’s OK,” he said. “The BGCT does not. Unfortunately, this vote from the BGCT says much more about them than us. The BGCT wants us to choose. They want us to be like-minded. And that doesn’t sound very Woodland to me. Holding fragile union through tumultuous days as we seek to reflect God’s image and share as much deep wisdom as we can discern is a more faithful path.”
Second Baptist Lubbock
Jake Maxwell, pastor at Second Baptist Lubbock, told BNG his congregation — long a progressive bastion in conservative West Texas — has had little to do with the BGCT in years. Thus, he was surprised to learn his church was being expelled from a convention they didn’t consider home anyway.
The first he heard of the expulsion came not from a BGCT official but from a staff member of Lifeway Christian Resources, the SBC publishing house based in Nashville, Maxwell said.
Second Baptist’s website says its “denominational partners” are the BGCT, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Baptist World Alliance.
A BGCT news release issued after BNG inquired about the latest expulsions said the vote to remove Woodland and Second Baptist — although the release did not identify them by name — was unanimous.
“While we appreciate the long-standing relationship and previous collaborations with these two congregations, our heart at BGCT is to remain tethered to the grace and truth extended to us found only in God’s word and the Spirit of Christ,” said Bobby Contreras, chair of the BGCT Executive Board and pastor of Alamo Heights Baptist Church in San Antonio. “This foundation has and will continue to be where BGCT stands united.”
Despite its exclusionary stance, Contreras said the Executive Board “is committed to leading in sharing Christ and showing love in all we say and do.”
Editor’s note: The author of this news article served as associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church at the time of its expulsion.