(Editor’s note: A major news item in the Baptist world recently has involved the fate of a Dallas church that recently announced its gay-friendly stance publicly — thus jeopardizing its longstanding affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. ABP solicited commentaries from two writers — one for the church retaining its relationship with the BGCT, another who supports the church and state convention severing their relationship.)
By Aaron Weaver
I recently attended a town-hall forum on hunger relief put on by the Texas Hunger Initiative. It is a collaboration between the Baylor University School of Social Work and the Baptist General Convention of Texas with the purpose of helping the 1.3 million Texans who experience hunger daily by making Texas “food secure” by 2015.
Recalling the Civil Rights Movement, initiative leader Jeremy Everett emphasized that each generation will ultimately be judged by its response (or lack thereof) to the pressing problem of hunger or food insecurity. I was moved by his presentation, and left the forum inspired to become an active participant in this emerging movement.
But those feelings were soon replaced with a bit of frustration when I learned — the same day — that the BGCT’s top leader had just taken action against a Dallas church the convention suspected of being too affirming of homosexuality.
Why? Well, Royal Lane Baptist Church recently changed its website to describe its congregation as “a vibrant mosaic of varied racial identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and denominational backgrounds.” The church has, according to the Dallas Morning News, also elevated openly gay and lesbian members to leadership roles.
Royal Lane’s gay-friendly status was certainly no secret to those in the Baptist Building, as the paper also reported that the church includes BGCT staffers as active members.
I understand that organizations have the right to set boundaries in terms of who’s in and who’s out. And certainly there are occasions when organizations have to draw a line in the sand. But it is abundantly clear that the BGCT’s orthodoxy on this challenging issue of homosexuality is surely not a “generous orthodoxy.” A line has been drawn, and Royal Lane’s outside it.
I can only wonder though: who is next? For the sake of consistency, it seems that Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth must get the boot as well. And how many other Texas Baptist congregations function the same way as Royal Lane by being, in practice, inclusive and affirming of gays?
It seems to me that the difference between Royal Lane and at least a handful of other prominent Texas Baptist churches is that Royal Lane made the decision to announce publicly what was already the case: that that it is indeed a “vibrant mosaic of varied racial identities, ethnicities, sexual orientations and denominational backgrounds.”
Thus, it seems that the BGCT has been operating under some sort of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I guess it’s okay for a church to be gay-friendly as long as said church isn’t honest about it.
A real tension exists between the convention’s action here and the historic Baptist distinctives of soul freedom and local-church autonomy. One line that really stuck with me from BGCT Executive Director Randel Everett’s statement was his assertion that basically all would be well between the BGCT and Royal Lane once the church clarified its position to reflect that it is “in agreement with the theological position of the BGCT.”
Over the years, the BGCT has taken theological positions on countless issues. Why not enforce them all? The principle of local autonomy is respected when churches take positions and act in ways contrary to “historic Texas Baptist values” on issues other than homosexuality.
For example, not once to my knowledge has the BGCT taken similar action against an affiliated congregation that turned a blind eye to clergy sex abuse. Meanwhile, all it takes is a simple website change and a couple gay-friendly comments in a newspaper for a congregation to get the boot.
After the Southern Baptist Convention ousted Broadway last summer, Baptist Standard Editor Marv Knox argued in an editorial that Baptists “must determine how we respond redemptively to homosexual church members.” He explained that the SBC’s action “does not seem to be redemptive, because it singles out one behavior for condemnation while turning a blind eye to the broad range of sins.” Referring to gossipers, authoritarian pastors and hypocritical church leaders, Knox emphasized that “these sinners have done far more damage to the Kingdom of Christ than Baptist gays and lesbians.” He concluded with a call to talk about homosexuality.
Had that conversation actually taken place, I think we would have learned that Texas Baptists are not monolithic on sexuality issues. I’m sure numerous Texas Baptist families are like famous Baptist sociologist Tony Campolo and his wife, Peggy. The former calls gay and lesbian Christians to a life of celibacy. The latter, meanwhile, calls all Christians — gay or straight — to committed, healthy, life-long monogamous relationships. It’s unfortunate that Texas Baptists can’t follow the Campolos’ example of being able to respect one another and cooperate together despite significant differences.
So, while I was greatly encouraged and inspired by one BGCT project — the Texas Hunger Initiative — I am troubled by this recent decision of the same organization. As with the SBC’s action against Broadway, there was nothing “redemptive” about this BGCT decision.