|A motion made at last year’s Southern Baptist Convention to remove Ft. Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church from membership in the SBC over the issue of homosexuality was discussed today by the denomination’s executive committee, which delayed action until the completion of further study.
The motion stemmed from the 2008 SBC annual meeting when Bill Sanderson, pastor of Hepzibah Baptist Church in Wendell, N.C., asked that the church be declared “not to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“It pleases me that the executive committee so graciously and warmly entertained our conviction that we are in fact in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention,” Charles Foster Johnson, interim pastor of Broadway, told EthicsDaily.com.
The executive committee adopted a recommendation that read: “That the study of whether Broadway Baptist Church of Ft. Worth, Texas, should continue to be considered to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention continue, and further inquires and continued communications with the church be made, with the goal of arriving at an appropriate report to the convention at its June 2009 annual meeting in Louisville, Ky.”
In January 2009, Jorene Taylor Swift, minister of congregational care at Broadway, wrote a letter on behalf of the church leadership to outline why the motion against Broadway should not be passed by the SBC executive committee. The letter, which was a response to an inquiry by SBC Executive Committee Executive Vice President and General Counsel August Boto, was also sent to members of the SBC executive committee.
“Broadway has never taken any church action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,” read the letter obtained by EthicsDaily.com. “Broadway Baptist Church considers itself to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and has every intention of remaining so.”
The controversy began during the church’s 125th anniversary in 2007. The celebration was to include a pictorial directory of the church family. However, conflict arose over whether to allow homosexual members to be pictured as couples. After months of debate, the congregation voted 294-182 in February 2008 to approve the compromise directory that included no family poses.
“We are painfully aware of the media coverage given to the controversy over the publication of our church directory,” the church’s recent letter noted about the compromise directory. “One of the factors in choosing this style of directory was our belief that it does not make a statement to anyone to indicate that Broadway has in any way affirmed, approved, or endorsed homosexual behavior.”
During the controversy, a group called “Friends for the Future of Broadway” pushed to dismiss the church’s pastor, Brett Younger. Although often reported as merely because of the pictorial directory, the list of grievances actually included church governance issues unrelated to homosexuality. In March 2008, the congregation voted 499-237 to keep Younger as pastor. The following month, Younger announced his resignation in order to accept a faculty position at Mercer University, a Baptist institution in Georgia.
“The motion made by a segment of our congregation last year to remove our then-pastor Brett Younger was not premised on this issue but rather on some members’ dissatisfaction with Dr. Younger’s leadership style,” the church letter to the executive committee said. “It is not surprising that the secular press was neither titillated by these issues nor interested in reporting them, but they were in fact the substance of our internal issues.”
During the 2008 SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis, North Carolina pastor Bill Sanderson offered a motion to declare Broadway as “not to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.” The motion was offered to remove Broadway because of the issue of homosexuality. The SBC’s Constitution declares, “Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” Leadership at Broadway noted to EthicsDaily.com that Sanderson had not been in contact with the church, but apparently offered his motion based merely on news reports of the recent controversy.
Sanderson’s motion was referred to the SBC executive committee. In August 2008, August Boto of the SBC executive committee staff sent an inquiry to Broadway with several questions asking about homosexual members and their roles in the church. The church leadership decided to offer a letter explaining its position rather than to answer the investigative questionnaire.
In addition to drafting the letter to Boto, church leaders worked in other ways to defeat the motion. Efforts included meetings with Southern Baptist leaders like Paige Patterson and Jimmy Draper, as well as leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Representatives from the church also flew to Nashville to attend today’s executive committee meeting. Church leaders found the membership, including homosexual members, to be largely supportive of the efforts to maintain the church’s relationship with the SBC.
One significant issue mentioned by Broadway leadership concerned Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty members who are members of the church. Since faculty members are required to be members of SBC churches, the church’s leadership worked to defeat the motion in order not to lose its members, who include a longtime music leader at the church. These relationships represent a primary reason why Broadway leaders and members have worked to maintain their SBC affiliation.
“If the motion before the SBC passes and Broadway is determined not to be in friendly cooperation with the Convention, we would thus lose these fine men and their families from our congregation,” the church’s recent letter explained. “It would be a travesty both for our church and for these families for them to have to find new churches after many years of worshipping and laboring together with the people of Broadway solely because of an issue -- based on an unsupported and untrue allegation -- that has nothing to do with them or their ministries.”
The church’s letter also noted the historic relationship between Broadway and the SBC, arguing that the church “fills a unique place in Southern Baptist life.” Examples included assisting an SBC church in New Orleans to recover from Hurricane Katrina, working with Baptist missionaries around the world, running a Baptist food and clothing ministry to serve the poor and homeless, and providing a place for historic Baptist worship.
“Broadway has enjoyed a very long relationship with the SBC and with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Forth Worth,” the letter noted. “Our Southern Baptist roots run deep.”
The letter to Boto and executive committee members ended by explaining that the church remains focused on serving Christ and others.
“We are not a church where homosexuality is a defining issue,” the letter read. “While we extend Christian hospitality to everyone -- including homosexuals -- we do not endorse, approve, or affirm homosexual behavior. … This is who we are: a church that exists to share Christ’s work of reconciling the world to God.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.