LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee recommended in a unanimous vote Monday afternoon that the denomination cease its relationship with Broadway Baptist Church, a Fort Worth, Texas, congregation that has been the source of controversy over its stance on homosexuality.
The Executive Committee’s recommendation will be considered by SBC messengers during the annual meeting Tuesday or Wednesday.
At issue is whether the church is in violation of Article III of the SBC Constitution, which states that churches “which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” are not in friendly cooperation. Broadway Baptist has approximately five open homosexual members, including two male couples, according to church leaders. Some of the homosexuals serve on church committees.
The controversy over the church began last year when the question arose as to whether the homosexual couples should be pictured in a church directory. In the end, the church voted 294-182 to publish a directory without family portraits but with candid shots of members involved in various ministries and activities. The Executive Committee got involved after a messenger at the ’08 SBC annual meeting made a motion that the convention declare Broadway Baptist not to be “in friendly cooperation” with the denomination. The motion was referred to the Executive Committee.
Various Executive Committee workgroups and subcommittees studied the issue during their September and February meetings but delayed action to further study the issue. Although members of Broadway Baptist appeared at the February meeting, none appeared at Monday’s meeting. Some members of the workgroup and subcommittee said in February they would welcome a statement from the church on homosexuality so as to clarify its position on the issue. The church, though, chose not to pass any such statement.
Stephen Wilson, a member of the Executive Committee and vice president for academic affairs at Mid-Continent University, emphasized to Baptist Press that the denomination encourages churches to reach out to people struggling with homosexuality. The issue with Broadway Baptist, though, is over a church allowing members who are homosexual and unrepentant.
“If churches are ministering to homosexuals, they are doing nothing more than what our own convention’s task force has asked us to do,” Wilson told Baptist Press. “But in Broadway’s case … the church was in effect saying that it was OK to have members who are open homosexuals.”
The Executive Committee’s recommendation says that the committee “recommends that the cooperative relationship between the Convention and the church cease, and that the church’s messengers not be seated, until such time as the church unambiguously demonstrates its friendly cooperation with the Convention under Article III.”
Wilson noted that some outside observers criticized the Executive Committee for delaying action at two previous meetings. He, though, said he had no regrets and that “it has always been our hope there could be reconciliation.”
“This was not a rush to judgment. We actually wanted — from the bottom of my heart — for this to be resolved by the local church where the convention wouldn’t have to be involved in any way,” said Wilson, who serves as chairman of a workgroup that studied the issue. “… I think [in February] there was a feeling that maybe this could be solved without having to go through the step that we had to do today.”
The church’s interim pastor, Charles Johnson, appeared before an Executive Committee workgroup at February’s meeting. Since then, the church has called a new pastor, Brent Beasley.
Prior to the February meeting, the church sent a letter to the Executive Committee, which stated in part: “Broadway has never taken any church action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior. Broadway Baptist Church considers itself to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and has every intention of remaining so.” It further stated, “While we extend Christian hospitality to everyone — including homosexuals — we do not endorse, approve, or affirm homosexual behavior.”
But Wilson said the church’s actions ran counter to what it claimed in the letter.
“[I]t was more from what they were actually doing in practice where the conflict was,” Wilson said. “While they didn’t officially endorse it, they were allowing members and also people in leadership that were homosexual.”
David Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church in Canyon, Texas, and president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, told BP he had hoped Broadway Baptist would do more to make clear it opposes homosexuality. He said he had discussions with church leaders and that his involvement was “more as a pastor than as the president” of the BGCT. Lowrie said he told church leadership “that they needed to take a step beyond just making a public declaration” in a letter.
“They needed to actually express those convictions in some practical way,” he said. “They, for whatever reason, weren’t able to do that. … I felt that there were things that they could have done to minister to those within their church fellowship that struggled with those issues and other issues.”
He said he thought a ministry within the church to help people with “unhealthy lifestyles” would have helped clarify the matter.
The pastor who led the church during the church directory controversy — Brett Younger — resigned in June 2008 to take a position at McAfee School of Theology in Georgia. He left the church after a vote to oust him failed, 68-32 percent. But the desire by some to remove Younger had less to do with the issue of homosexuality and more to do with a host of other issues, church members said.
Younger seemingly approved of the acceptance of homosexuality in church life. He delivered a sermon Dec. 2, 2007, explaining both sides of the debate over whether homosexuality is a sin. In the end, he said, God’s people will “serve together in the unity of God’s diversity.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.