As Christians, and especially Baptist Christians, we should be able to disagree and then go on to work together, in the many areas where we agree, to carry the grace of Christ to a hurting world. There is too much need in the world for us to keep pushing each other out of "the circle" of shared ministry.
Grace. We have a hard time with grace. Sometimes we have a hard time accepting it. But we have an even harder time giving it - sometimes we don't even try.
Tuesday, at our annual TBC Breakfast at the BGCT, I called BGCT leadership to account for what I consider a violation of local church autonomy. (See Local church autonomy, inclusion, and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.)
For almost six years as executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, I had never publicly criticized BGCT leadership until now. Even in staking out this position on Tuesday, I made clear that BGCT leaders are my friends and are friends of TBC.
Even in taking issue with them on this one matter, I made clear that TBC - and I - continue to celebrate the many wonderful things that BGCT ministries and institutions are doing for the Lord. This one area of disagreement doesn't diminish my support of all the good that the BGCT is doing.
For 5-1/2 years in the TBC Weekly Baptist Roundup e-newsletter, I have regularly highlighted and celebrated the work of the Christian Life Commission in advocating for ethics and justice, and feeding people worldwide through its Hunger Offering; Texas Baptist schools and their students; the remarkable ministry of Texas Baptist Men and Texas Baptist Disaster Relief and Recovery; the mission ministries led by Texas Woman's Missionary Union; the stories of people's lives changed by Buckner International; numerous church starts that have brought Christ into so many lives; the support provided our churches by the Connections and Interim Ministry areas, and I could go on.
And I won't stop doing that just because I disagree with the BGCT on this one matter.
Texas Baptists Committed has an almost 30-year history of supporting the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which has included preventing it from being taken over by hostile Fundamentalist forces in the 1990s and working since then to educate churches on Baptist principles and helping them find solid pastors who are committed to those principles, to help prevent them from leaving the BGCT and moving to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Now TBC has stood up - after all that support - and said the BGCT is wrong on one issue.
This one instance neither overrides nor diminishes our support of the BGCT through all these years and in so many areas.
On Thursday, I received an email from a dear friend, a pastor who has supported Texas Baptists Committed faithfully through the years. He wrote to let me know that he disagrees with my criticism of BGCT leadership at the Breakfast, which he attended. Therefore, he informed me, he is withdrawing his support of Texas Baptists Committed.
REALLY? This one issue overrides all that Texas Baptists Committed stands for and all of the support that we have given - and continue to give - to the BGCT in all other areas? Was his support conditional that he must be able to agree with us on everything we do?
I ask the same question of the BGCT - REALLY?
Wilshire and FBC Austin have faithfully supported the BGCT through all these years, in so many areas; they have led other churches throughout this voluntary network of cooperating churches to give more; they have contributed, in more ways than I can count, to the ministries of churches throughout Texas; they are in agreement with the BGCT in every essential doctrine and then some. They have taken one step that happens to be out of step with the majority of BGCT churches.
And the BGCT and its cooperating churches can't - as Baptists - brook this one area of disagreement? They're willing to overlook - because of this one disagreement - all that Wilshire and FBC Austin have done for the Lord and for the BGCT? REALLY?
As Wilshire members prepared to vote on this matter 2 weeks ago (full disclosure - I'm a Wilshire member), George Mason said he had one thing to say to any who were thinking about leaving - then he simply said thank you to them for all they had given. In announcing the outcome of the vote this past Monday, in which over 61% voted for considering all members as part of a single membership "class," George assured those 39% who voted otherwise that they, too, were still equal, that all members could go forward and work together on the things on which we all agree - missions, ministries, advocacy, as we together build a community shaped by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Wilshire and Texas Baptists Committed can do ministry with those with whom we disagree. I'm not willing to throw away all I love about the BGCT over the one thing with which I disagree.
Would that my friend who sent the email - and BGCT leadership and messengers who voted Tuesday to impose their own "standard" on other churches - would find it in their hearts to exhibit the same grace.