LOUISVILLE, Ky.—The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has discontinued its relationship with Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth because of the church’s perceived toleration of homosexual members.
Messengers to the SBC annual meeting dismissed the Fort Worth church in less than 30 seconds, voting overwhelmingly and with no discussion to approve a recommendation by the convention’s Executive Committee June 23.
The recommendation did not specifically mention homosexuality. But that issue has been the backdrop of controversy at the church since late 2007, when a dispute arose regarding whether to include pictures of homosexual couples in the church’s membership directory.
Broadway’s denominational affiliation came under question at last year’s SBC annual meeting. William Sanderson, pastor of Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell, asked the SBC to declare the church “not to be in friendly cooperation” with the convention.
The Executive Committee studied the issue this past year and met with representatives of Broadway in February. Then, on the eve of the SBC meeting in Louisville, the committee voted to recommend “that the cooperative relationship between the convention and the church cease, and that the church’s messengers not be seated, until such time as the church unambiguously demonstrates its friendly cooperation with the convention under (constitution) Article III.”
Kathy Madeja, chair of Broadway’s board of deacons, expressed regret regarding the convention’s action.
“We are disappointed with the decision of the Southern Baptist Convention,” she said. “Broadway Baptist Church has been affiliated with the SBC for over 125 years. 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.”
Broadway still complies with the SBC constitution, Madeja added.
“We do not believe Broadway has taken any action that would justify being deemed not in ‘friendly cooperation’ with the SBC,” she said. “It is unfortunate that the Southern Baptist Convention decided otherwise and has severed its affiliation with Broadway Baptist Church.”
The Fort Worth church has been pastorless most of the past year, since the previous pastor, Brett Younger, joined the faculty of Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.
Brent Beasley, who will begin his tenure as Broadway’s pastor next month, was moving from Memphis, Tenn., to Fort Worth the week of June 22 and unavailable for comment.
Article III of the SBC’s constitution notes that “churches not in cooperation with the convention are churches which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
In materials provided to the Executive Committee during its investigation, a Broadway staff member denied violating the SBC constitution, a position later reiterated by the church’s deacons.
“Broadway never has taken any church action to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior,” Jorene Taylor Swift, minister of congregational care at the church, wrote to August Boto, the Executive Committee’s general counsel.
Swift called the assertion that Broadway has violated the SBC constitution “an unsupported and untrue allegation.”
“Broadway Baptist Church considers itself to be in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and has every intention of remaining so,” Swift wrote.
In fact, the church decided to publish its membership directory “with candid photographs of our members participating in many ministries and activities of Broadway,” she said. “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.”
Swift’s letter acknowledged the church’s membership reflects “a variety of views” on homosexuality. “Like a number of other Southern Baptist churches, our congregation is trying to understand how to minister to those who are engaged in a homosexual lifestyle,” she added. “Our church has not adopted the position that the Bible condones this behavior.”
A May 21 letter to Boto from Broadway’s deacons addressed what it called “innuendo and gossip” regarding the church’s position on homosexuality.
“We have not denied that we, like most other churches, have a few gay members,” the deacons’ letter said. “We do not inquire about sexual orientation when people present themselves for membership. We do require their profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord followed by believer’s baptism.”
The deacons’ letter confirmed Swift’s statement that the church has not acted to “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
“Broadway Baptist Church desires to maintain its longstanding and historic affiliation with the SBC,” the letter said. “We believe our continued association with the Southern Baptist Convention will benefit both Broadway and the convention and further the kingdom of God.
“It is our sincere hope the Executive Committee will recommend Broadway Baptist Church be deemed in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.”
The outcome of Broadway’s dismissal could have significant impact on several of the church’s members.
Swift’s letter noted four faculty members at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth are members of the church. Because of the convention’s vote, those faculty members will be required to join congregations in good standing with the national convention or resign their teaching posts.
Madeja declined to identify those faculty members, citing the private and painful nature of the situation.