FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A music professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has opted for early retirement rather than leave a church declared out of fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention because of openly homosexual members.
Michael Cox, an award-winning professor of music theory and composition who has taught at Southwestern since 1990, chose to remain in membership at Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, a congregation with 125-year ties to the SBC and a long history of faculty and seminary leaders in its membership. The seminary requires faculty to be members in Southern Baptist churches.
Messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June in Louisville, Ky., voted overwhelmingly to declare the congregation “not in friendly cooperation” for violating the convention’s bylaws prohibiting the approval, affirmation or endorsement of homosexual behavior.
The church made news in 2007 as it was deciding whether to include same-sex couples in a church pictorial 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. In seeking to resolve the issue with the SBC’s Executive Committee, church leaders acknowledged that several homosexual members serve on congregational committees, but denied taking any official action to affirm, endorse or approve of homosexual behavior.
“Southwestern is disappointed with Dr. Cox’s decision,” said Thomas White, the seminary’s vice president of student services and communications. “We wish he would have decided to continue his service at Southwestern; however, what the Southern Baptist Convention requires of the seminary is crystal clear on this issue.”
Brent Beasley, who became Broadway’s pastor earlier this year, said in a statement he shared with the Southern Baptist TEXAN: “I’m sorry Southwestern and the Southern Baptist Convention put Michael in this difficult position, but from Broadway’s perspective, we’re thrilled that he made the courageous decision he did to take early retirement from Southwestern and stay at Broadway. Michael is a gifted composer and conductor, and he means a lot to our Chancel Choir and entire congregation. And continuing their relationship with Broadway is obviously important to Michael and Rhonda, as well.”
Beasley said Cox has been named the church’s composer-in-residence, a one-year appointment in addition to his serving as chancel choir director.
Broadway’s stance on homosexuality was referred to the SBC Executive Committee for study at the 2008 SBC annual meeting. Prior to a February meeting with the Executive Committee, the church stated in a letter to the committee: “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.”
David Lowrie, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas of which Broadway is a member, told Baptist Press in June he had hoped Broadway would do more to make clear it opposed 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,” said Lowrie, pastor of First Baptist Church in Canyon. “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.”
Lowrie said he thought a ministry within the church to help people with “unhealthy lifestyles” would have helped clarify the matter.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.