The congregation of Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco has approved a statement accepting all people into its membership, including those in the LGBT community, a move that puts it at odds with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and its pledge to expel churches that break fellowship with the BGCT on this issue.
Meeting in Waco last month, messengers to the convention passed two motions relating to member churches and the acceptance of the LGBT lifestyle. One motion reaffirmed the belief that any church affirming a sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman is considered out of “harmonious cooperation” with the BGCT.
The convention apparently was taking aim at such churches as Lake Shore Baptist, which describes itself as a welcoming body that accepts all believers, regardless of sexual orientation. The church for eight months went through what it called a “process of discernment,” in which members met in groups to discuss church policy.
Then, during a meeting last week, the congregation approved a change to the church’s bylaws. It read: “Lake Shore Baptist Church is a welcoming and affirming community of Christians attempting to discover, articulate, and embody the meaning of the Gospel in the world today. We affirm each individual as a child of God and created in God’s image. Our welcome holds no bounds; we welcome all persons into membership and full participation in the life and ministry of our congregation.”
David Mosley, 65, a 12-year member of Lake Shore Baptist, said in a phone interview about 140 members were present at the meeting, and 118 voted in favor of the change.
“It was a rather general statement that never mentions the LGBT directly, but we had discussed it extensively for months and considered what the Bible had to say,” Mosley said. “Our church, quite frankly, has a fair number of gay people, and the basic question that arises is, ‘Did Jesus come for them, too?’ We believe he brought a message of love and affirmation and not condemnation. It’s not that we are attempting to become specifically a gay-friendly church, but a friendly church extending its boundaries.”
He added, “An essential tenet of being a Baptist is the personal nature of one’s relationship with God. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say I have no window into the soul of God. Those choosing to take communion with us are welcome to do so. That would be their decision, and we would create no barriers.”
Pastor Kyndall Rothaus, 31, a graduate of George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, said she became pastor of Lake Shore Baptist Church about a year ago. She said she was attracted to the church’s commitment “to love your neighbor and work for social justice.”
During an interview Thursday, she said Lake Shore Baptist began considering its stance on the LGBT community long before her arrival and the BGCT convention.
“In the spring, we held a seminar series which we called a ‘compassionate conversations about LGBT lives,’ and we felt it was important to discuss people and not issues,” she said. “The sessions were well attended, and we had very positive and civil discussions, worked really hard to be respectful and loving toward each other.”
Rothaus said she was pleased the congregation chose to pass the amendment to the church’s bylaws, which reflects its dedication to inclusiveness.
“In my ministry, I have spoken with countless people who are either gay or lesbian or have family members who are, and they have felt rejected by the church. They are misunderstood and basically not welcome,” Rothaus said. “I see this decision as an extension of the ministry we already have to people who are hurting or feel ostracized.”
Still, she said in light of actions taken at the BGCT convention in Waco, “It’s likely Lake Shore will be asked to leave the convention.”
That could create problems for a “handful” of people who attend the church while also receiving BGCT-backed scholarships to attend Baylor’s Truett Seminary.
“I know they would very much like to stay, but it would be a huge financial burden if they lost those scholarships,” she said, adding the church is exploring alternative methods to replace the financial assistance the BGCT now provides. “We will have to see what we can do.”
Rothaus said she hopes Lake Shore “will remain in Christian relationship with other BGCT churches in an informal capacity and hold onto the many things we have in common,” including work to advance the kingdom of Christ and to serve the needy, which Rothaus considers the church’s calling.
Rothaus said she hopes other Baptist churches “will at least become open to a conversation about what we’re learning about our LGBT neighbors.”
She added she believes the church’s stance will produce growth, saying, “I’ve met a number of people in the Waco community, just in the last year, who had left churches because they felt like the message they were hearing was one of judgment and exclusion. I have people approach me frequently who say they are experiencing spiritual healing when they see a church like Lake Shore that preaches the gospel of love that extends to everyone.”
BGCT communications director Joshua Minatrea said, “We appreciate the church. Any decision regarding how this church relates to the BGCT will be determined by the BGCT executive board.”
Removal of churches from the BGCT does not affect their being Baptist, but it does prohibit them from contributing funds to the BGCT, which is involved in education and social ministries, in addition to evangelism and missions. In 2010, the executive board voted to cut ties with Royal Lane Baptist Church of Dallas over its stance on LGBT people. That same year, Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth severed its ties with the group, saying it would go its separate way over the BGCT issue.
In 1998, the BGCT declined funds from an Austin church over the issued and asked that the church remove its name from its website.