With no discussion, Southern Baptist Convention messengers Tuesday approved a recommendation to cease the denomination's relationship with Broadway Baptist Church, a Fort Worth, Texas, congregation that has been the source of controversy over its stance on homosexuality.
The recommendation from the Executive Committee passed on the floor nearly unanimously, capping a focus on the church that began last year when a messenger made a motion asking that the convention declare Broadway Baptist as not "in friendly cooperation" with the denomination.
At issue was whether the church was 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 members. Some of the homosexuals serve on church committees. News of the homosexual members became public in early 2008 when the church was trying to decide whether to include the same-sex couples 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.
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, he said.
"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."
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 an Executive Committee meeting Monday. Some members of the workgroup and subcommittee said in February that 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.
The recommendation approved by messengers says that the "cooperative relationship between the Convention and the church" is ceasing "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 that 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 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," 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."