Leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas have put two churches on notice of expulsion because of their welcoming-and-affirming stance toward LGBTQ people.
First Baptist Church of Austin replied publicly Nov. 8 to a letter officially informing the congregation that any church that welcomes and affirms members of the LGBTQ community “effectively chooses to withdraw itself from harmonious cooperation” from the state convention. FBC Austin adopted a diversity policy in 2015 that welcomes members regardless of sexual orientation into “the full life of our community.”
The Baptist Standard reported that Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas received a similar letter warning of potential ouster pending outcome of a vote clarifying the congregation’s position on issues including whether gays and lesbians can serve as deacons or if same-sex couples can marry in the church.
The newspaper quoted a section of the letter to Wilshire from BGCT Executive Director David Hardage advising: “Should your church choose to publicly affirm same-sex sexual behavior, the BGCT will no longer be able to accept funds from the church, seat its messengers to the annual meeting, allow the church to express affiliation with the BGCT or allow its members to serve on the BGCT boards, committees or other roles.”
According to the Wilshire Baptist Church website, the congregation is in the middle of a voting process to reaffirm an existing bylaw establishing “a single class of membership,” with the understanding the policy puts no limitations on service based on sexual orientation or gender identity and that if there has been any past exclusion of LGBT individuals it was “only by unwritten practice” and not according to the letter of the law.
The recommendation comes after a yearlong study by a blue-ribbon Inclusion and Diversity Study Group failed to reach consensus on four specific questions it was assigned to answer. According to a June 30 letter to deacon officers, 79 percent of the 19 committee members support deacon ordination and baby dedications for gay members, while 68 percent also supported clergy ordination and marriage regardless of sexual orientation.
Saying “Scripture does not offer sufficient evidence to support changing the belief that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman,” a minority recommended the church codify its presumed if unstated traditional view that marriage is intended by God to be between a man and a woman and that all sexual behavior outside of marriage is a sin.
Wilshire Pastor George Mason called the decision by BGCT leaders “provocative” and “premature,” telling the Baptist Standard the church did not make a public statement and purposely avoided “welcoming and affirming” language that might “put the BGCT on the defensive.”
Griff Martin, elected 24th senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin in June, told church members its response letter to the BGCT would go public both as “a stand for both LGBTQ full inclusion in the church and the historic Baptist distinctive of church freedom.”
In a letter dated Nov. 8, church members said that direct conversations led them to believe the ouster decision was influenced by other churches threatening to withhold funds from the BGCT until First Baptist Church is excluded from fellowship.
The BGCT, one of two state conventions in Texas affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, last disciplined a church over homosexuality in 2010, when leaders say they would no longer accept funds from Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas after the congregation began appointing deacons who were openly gay.
Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, removed from the Southern Baptist Convention in 2009 for acting “to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,” withdrew voluntarily from the BGCT in order to avoid ouster.