In a meeting in Waco this week, the Baptist General Convention of Texas took aim at churches that accept LGBT people, essentially saying these congregations are not complying with the convention’s rules and could face being expelled from the statewide organization.
That move puts a target on churches such as Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, which describes itself as a welcoming body.
“I was disappointed the BGCT took this stance, particularly because one of our cherished Baptist principles is the autonomy of the local church,” Pastor Kyndall Rothaus said. “Each congregation makes its own decisions, and I see this as the BGCT taking a position of being in authority over churches.”
Rothaus said she attended the convention and stood in line for quite some time to read a statement opposing the pending motion.
“Then someone ran up and cut in front of me and called the question,” Rothaus said, meaning the person asked the convention to proceed with a vote.
The BGCT passed two motions, a week after notifying a church in Dallas and one in Austin their actions in accepting LGBT people effectively withdrew them from affiliation. The group has cut ties in the past with churches welcoming and accepting of LGBT people. Removal does not affect the churches 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.
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. About 150 people attend most Sunday services, and she was attracted to the church’s commitment “to love your neighbor and work for social justice,” she said.
Rothaus said she made a video of the presentation she hoped to make during the convention, and it had received more than 10,000 views since Tuesday.
“As recent events have made clear, there is an assault epidemic in our country,” Rothaus says in the statement, in which she also identifies herself as a victim of sexual assault. “One in four women will experience assault. So I stand before you today passionately against sexual sin. I am here to proclaim without doubt the primary sexual sin of our time is assault. Assault is absolutely contrary to all our Christian values. While children are molested, girls are raped on college campuses, and men and women attend churches where they seldom, if ever, hear about rape from the public, we squabble about the sexual choices of consenting, responsible adults.
“If the enemy were trying to distract us from protecting our children, he has succeeded magnificently.”
Of worship bodies that accept and welcome LGBT people, she said, “Our affirming congregations are not asking us to agree with their decision. But they are asking us to respect it, because that is what it has always meant to be a Baptist — to respect the local autonomy of the church and the freedom of the individual conscience.
“Given our current political climate, I would hope to see the church be a shining example to our country of how to work together despite our differences. What a strong, counter-cultural testimony that would be. The world doesn’t need more polarization, and the body of Christ doesn’t need any more amputations.”
The Baptist General Convention of Texas passed the motions in Waco during its annual meeting. The first motion says the convention reserves the authority to remove a congregation considered to be outside of “harmonious cooperation,” as determined by a two-thirds vote of its executive board. The second motion reaffirms its 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 Baptist General Convention of Texas.
In 2010, the group’s 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 rather go its separate way than exclude people because of their sexual orientation.
In 1998, the BGCT declined funds from an Austin church over the issue and asked that the church remove its name from its website.
Tim Randolph, director of the Waco Regional Baptist Association, said the association “in no way is entangled with what is going on with the BGCT.” Randolph said since churches are autonomous, he could not speak for any or all of them, including members of the local Baptist association he leads.
He said if a local church has an issue with another body concerning LGBT people, that matter could be raised only during the regional association’s annual meeting.
“It seems like Baptists go through spasms like this over time,” said Baylor University journalism professor Robert Darden, an observer of church trends who shepherded Baylor’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. “There was debate over African Americans and their place in full fellowship, and then there was the issue of whether women could serve as deacons. To suggest women might actually become pastors was science fiction. To me, this seems like the third wave, and the other two created splinters.”
Darden said he knows of local churches discussing the matter of gay members, and a parting of the ways with the Baptist General Convention of Texas would not surprise him.
Charley Garrison, who serves as pastor of gay-affirming Central Texas Metropolitan Community Church in Waco, said he was “certainly disappointed” by the convention’s decision.
‘Wrong side of history’
“It’s not surprising in this political climate that we’ve found ourselves in,” he said. “I think ultimately they will find they are on the wrong side of history.”
Darden said he finds little comfort in the stance of churches that welcome LGBT people to worship but fail to recognize their status before man and God.
“That’s like saying someone is separate but equal,” he said. “If we are separate, we are not equal. That’s like having bathrooms and water fountains for white people as opposed to people of color. They can walk in the doors but can’t fully participate. That’s not welcoming and not affirming.”
Erin Conaway, pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church, said he found the vote “a very sad day for Baptists and especially Texas Baptists.”
“Baptist associations and conventions are supposed to be a group of people who gather together to do the work on which they agreed and feel called by God to do,” Conaway said. “We are all voluntary members of this convention, and the convention is supposed to serve at the pleasure and guidance of the local churches and not the other way around.”
He said any division will hurt the collective strength of Baptist churches.
“The thing that breaks my heart about this is that every time we Baptists are divided over issues about which we disagree, our ability to work in the world toward our common goals — building and maintaining schools and seminaries and spreading of the good news of our faith — diminishes greatly,” Conaway said.
Matt Snowden, pastor of First Baptist Church of Waco, declined to comment until he has discussed the issue with members of his congregation.
At Highland Baptist Church, pastor John Durham said the church did not send messengers to the Baptist General Convention of Texas meeting, though it is a member and makes contributions. Durham said he would not comment for the record on the new resolutions until he had additional time to research the matter.
Calls to and messages left for the pastors of the First Baptist Church of Woodway and Columbus Avenue Baptist Church were not returned.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.