Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When family doesn't want you anymore
by Bill Jones, TBC executive director


As I write this, I'm sitting at the back of the room, observing the deliberations of the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

In November, my home church, Wilshire Baptist of Dallas, voted to recognize only one class of members. There would no longer be a second class, members who were automatically deemed unfit for ordination, service, or marriage on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

First Baptist, Austin, had adopted a similar policy two years earlier.

The day after the result of Wilshire's vote was announced, messengers to the BGCT annual meeting voted to consider such churches "outside of harmonious cooperation" and to give responsibility to its Executive Board for applying that label to specific churches.

In a few minutes, the Executive Board will vote to remove Wilshire, First Austin, and Lake Shore Baptist of Waco, which - shortly after the Annual Meeting - adopted a policy similar to that voted by Wilshire.

Some have said this is no big deal, that these churches will easily find new affiliations.

Arriving yesterday for the Ethics and Christian Life Committee meeting - at the gracious invitation of Gus Reyes, Christian Life Commission director - I was greeted as a friend. Later, as I attended the dinner and then entered the Executive Board meeting, I was greeted by friends. We brought each other up-to-date on our families, recent activities, etc., as friends do.

I have a lot of treasured relationships with BGCT staff, Texas Baptist pastors, and involved laypersons, Executive Board members, and so forth. 

My church has relationships with the BGCT and churches throughout the state, relationships that have been nurtured since Wilshire's founding on June 14, 1951 (coincidentally, I was "founded" 3 months earlier to the day, on March 14).

The BGCT isn't just another "affiliation" for Wilshire. It's family.

When I attend a BGCT function, I come representing Texas Baptists Committed, because it's part of my job responsibility to stay informed about what's going on with the BGCT and to network with BGCT staff, pastors, and so forth.

But frankly, it's never felt like work to me. It feels more like fellowshipping with family.

This morning, our family - Wilshire's and mine - will tell us they don't want us in the family anymore. This IS a big deal.

Last night, the chair of the Executive Board - in setting the stage for this morning's vote - made what I thought was an inappropriate endorsement of a contentious motion prior to a vote. He said, "tomorrow we will vote to call sin sin, to refuse to affirm sinful behavior."

No, what you're voting is to place your theology and your church polity above those of other family members. You're saying that our minor theological differences are more important than our partnership in mission efforts throughout the years, more important than the unity of our shared love for, and commitment to, Jesus Christ.

Well, they just had the discussion and vote. Two Executive Board members spoke against the motion. Another asked for clarification of the ramifications for the churches, particularly whether there would be an exception to allow them to give to the annual Hunger Offering. The answer, regrettably, was a resounding NO.

The vote was 63-6 in favor of the motion.

Our family has told us they don't want us anymore.

Wilshire and I love our Texas Baptist universities and seminaries, but we will no longer be able to support them through the BGCT, which now refuses to accept our money.

We love Buckner International, but we will no longer be able to support Buckner through the BGCT, which now refuses to accept our money.

We love the Hunger Offering, which began at Wilshire in the 1990s, originated by the late Phil Strickland, CLC director. Annually, Wilshire is among the largest givers to this offering. But we can no longer give to it, because the BGCT refuses to accept our money.

We love the Christian Life Commission, but we can no longer give to support it, because the BGCT refuses to accept our money.

And I could go on.

We have been sent packing. We will be "adopted" by another family, but we will grieve over lost relationships through the BGCT, and the BGCT will find that it has lost dearly in the immense contributions made by these three churches, and the leadership provided by them.

Family, we love you, and we will miss you. Goodbye.

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