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The slowly shrinking Southern Baptist Convention voted on Tuesday to sever 125-year-old ties with a Texas church that allowed homosexual members to have their photos in the church directory.
Messengers (delegates) to the SBC’s annual meeting voted overwhelmingly to disassociate from Forth Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church, following an executive committee ruling Monday that the congregation “failed to establish its compliance” with the SBC rules that ban churches that “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
According to the Associated Baptist Press, “it was the first time the SBC has ejected a church simply because denominational officials perceive that the congregation is in violation of a policy prohibiting affiliation with pro-gay churches.”
Since doctrinal conservatives took control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1980s, the association has been getting smaller and more exclusive, at various times rejecting Baptist liberals and moderates, women clergy, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Cater, Mormons and Muslims and Jews, public schools and Walt Disney, and, in 1993, churches that are welcoming and affirming of gays.
This year, for the fourth year in a row, Southern Baptist churches baptized fewer people than last year. The number of annual baptisms per church member — a key indicator of church growth — has dropped sharply in the past 50 years. Southern Baptists baptized one person for every 19 church members in 1950, a ratio that dropped to 1 baptism for every 47 church members in 2008.
Two years ago, then-SBC president Frank Page said the declining numbers can be blamed, in part, on a perception that Baptists are “mean-spirited, hurtful and angry people” and that the denomination has been known too much in recent years for “what we’re against” than “what we’re for,” Page said.
“Our culture is increasingly antagonistic and sometimes adverse to a conversation about a faith in Christ. Sometimes that’s our fault because we have not always presented a winsome Christian life that would engender trust and a desire on the part of many people to engage in a conversation on the Gospel,” he said.
“All Southern Baptists should recommit to a life of loving people and ministering to people without strings attached so people will be more open to hearing the Gospel message.”
That’s apparently the approach Broadway Baptist tried to take in 2007, when gay couples who were attending Broadway asked to have their portraits in the church directory. Rather than reject the request, the congregation voted to publish a directory with candid snapshots and group shots rather than with traditional individual or family photos.
“We are disappointed with the decision of the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Kathy Madeja, the church’s deacon chair, in a statement released shortly after Tuesday’s vote. “Our mission at Broadway is and will continue to be consistent with the SBC’s stated enterprise of reaching the world for Christ. Like other SBC churches, membership at Broadway is by acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord and the experience of believer’s baptism by immersion.
“We do not believe Broadway has taken any action which would justify its being deemed not in friendly cooperation with the SBC. It is unfortunate that the Southern Baptist Convention decided otherwise and has severed its affiliation with Broadway Baptist Church.”
Broadway might not be the only Southern Baptist congregation facing an ouster this week. Influential Southern Baptist pastor and blogger Wade Burleson predicts that the Convention also will be asked to disassociate from First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., which recently called a woman to be its lead pastor. The SBC’s Faith and Message, revised in 2000, clearly states that “the office of pastor is limited to men.”
“The world may not understand our firm view on homosexuality. So be it,” Burleson wrote. “But when half of conservative evangelical Christianity doesn’t understand why we would disassociate from churches that call women as pastors, then we lose as a Convention. Let’s debate the women in ministry issue. Let’s disagree with one another amicably. But for heaven’s sake, let’s not make fools of ourselves by equating women preaching the gospel with homosexual sin.”
By the way, the theme for this year’s Southern Baptist Convention: “Love Loud: Actions Speak Louder Than Words.”