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WRAPUP: EC postpones determination whether church is in ‘friendly cooperation’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee unanimously agreed Feb. 17 to continue to study whether the convention should remain affiliated with Broadway Baptist Church, a historic Fort Worth, Texas, congregation that was involved last year in a controversy over whether homosexual couples should be pictured in a church directory.

The Executive Committee began studying the church’s affiliation last year after a messenger at the SBC annual meeting in June made a motion that the convention declare Broadway Baptist not to be “in friendly cooperation” with the denomination. Article III of the SBC Constitution states that churches “which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” are not in friendly cooperation.

The church last February decided in a 294-182 vote to publish a directory without family portraits but with candid shots of members involved in various ministries and activities. Additionally, the pastor who had presided over the controversy — Brett Younger — resigned from the church in June 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. Church members, though, said 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, including his leadership and his support of a project that allowed homeless people to stay at the church at night.

The Executive Committee agreed that the study should continue and that “further inquiries and continued communications with the church be made,” with the goal of “arriving at an appropriate report” to the convention at the June annual meeting in Louisville, Ky.

The church has about 1,400 members with 400 to 500 attendees on Sunday mornings.

Three people from the church — interim pastor Charles Johnson, minister of congregation care Jorene Taylor Swift and denominational relations committee member Lyn Robbins — voluntarily appeared and asked members of the Bylaws Workgroup and the Administration Subcommittee, both of which considered the matter, not to recommend breaking the relationship.

Much of the discussion during the workgroup and the subcommittee meetings focused on a Jan. 27 letter the church sent 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.” The letter also said the church chose a directory without family portraits because it believed such an action would not send the message the church endorsed homosexuality. The letter was approved by the church’s deacons and presented to the church with no objections.

Some members of the workgroup and subcommittee said they would welcome a stronger statement from the church on homosexuality so as to further disassociate itself from the church directory controversy. The church is autonomous and must decide the matter on its own.

“The committee has asked us to sort of strengthen our statement on the matter of homosexuality,” Johnson, the interim pastor, told Baptist Press. “We receive that challenge … and we’re going to take it very seriously and prayerfully and go back to our congregation and follow the light and leadership of the spirit of God.”

Johnson said he was “very heartened” and “encouraged” by discussions with committee members throughout the day. The Bylaws Workgroup and Administrative Subcommittee meetings each went past their scheduled end times, with members asking Johnson and the other two church representatives pointed questions about the church’s position on homosexuality.

Johnson, who began serving in his role in July, told Baptist Press he came to the committee meeting in order to tell members the church does not endorse homosexuality and to urge them not to act while the church “is healing” from losing not only its pastor but some of its members following last year’s controversies.

“Everyone has been gracious to us. We have felt a sensitivity from the committee toward our congregational situation, and we’ve received the wisdom of the committee,” he said. “We feel that we’ve taken a step of constructive engagement with the denomination. This is our denominational family. Instead of a step away, we’ve kind of stepped toward each other.”

The church’s letter to the Executive Committee acknowledged that not every member of Broadway is “in agreement about the propriety of homosexual behavior or the language regarding homosexuality in Article XV of the current Baptist Faith and Message.” Regarding that issue, the Baptist Faith and Message says “Christians should oppose … all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.”

“I’m still prayerfully confident … that we can have a positive conclusion to this whole matter [of disaffiliation],” Johnson said.

Younger, the pastor who left last year, 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.”

The church has about five members who are homosexual, with two of them serving on committees. The five joined Broadway Baptist by letter from other churches, and it only later was discovered they were homosexual, committee members were told.

In other business, Executive Committee members:

— approved a 2009-10 Cooperative Program Allocation budget of $204,385,592 for recommendation to the Southern Baptist Convention during its June 23-24 annual meeting in Louisville, Ky.

The proposed budget maintains current allocations to the convention’s ministries, including 50 percent of receipts to the International Mission Board and 22.79 percent to the North American Mission Board. The convention’s six seminaries will receive 21.92 percent. According to the seminary enrollment formula, Southern Seminary would receive 4.96 percent; Southwestern Seminary, 4.84 percent; New Orleans Seminary, 4.39 percent; Southeastern Seminary, 4.04 percent; Golden Gate Seminary, 1.80 percent; and Midwestern Seminary, 1.90 percent. (Cumulative numbers may not match the sum of individual seminary percentages due to rounding.)

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission would continue to receive 1.65 percent of the budget, while the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives would receive .24 percent.

The SBC Operating Budget, encompassing the SBC annual meeting costs, the work of the convention between annual meetings and the Executive Committee, would receive 3.40 percent of the CP budget.

— voted to decline further action on a motion referred from the 2008 annual meeting in Indianapolis asking that the Executive Committee and other Baptist entities “creatively consider how the week of the Convention could also be used to educate, encourage, and equip ministers and laity through seminars, conferences, and seminary classes.” The Executive Committee noted that, after having “conducted a review of the matter and collected entity input,” it believes that “the current availability of, and opportunities for, events preceding, during, or after the SBC Annual Meeting are sufficient, that the bylaws do not materially impede further development of such opportunities, and that the entities will continue to coordinate and provide events as feasible to support the work and mission of Southern Baptists.”

— voted to continue the current policy of requiring a $38,000 reimbursement from the Pastors’ Conference for use of the meeting hall and facilities prior to the 2009 and 2010 SBC annual meetings.

— received notification that Barry C. McCarty will serve again as chief parliamentarian during this June’s annual meeting.

— approved a request by LifeWay Christian Resources to begin a new monthly magazine for young adults, “Threads,” contingent upon LifeWay trustees’ approval during their September meeting.

— maintained the current staff salary structure for Executive Committee employees for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

— elected James R. (Jim) Daniel, and Darren Elrod to each serve as Southern Baptist Foundation trustees beginning in June for a three-year to expire in 2012. Daniel, who earlier served as a trustee of the foundation from 2002-08, is vice chairman/retailing banking statewide for BancFirst in Oklahoma City. Elrod is the finance and accounting controller for the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville, Tenn.
With reporting by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston and assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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  • Michael Foust