Boosting Membership By Thinning the Flock?

Yesterday I saw an article reporting that as the Southern Baptist Convention gathered for its annual meeting, one of its key priorities was how to “boost flagging membership and baptism rates.”

If I may offer a suggestion, one easy way not to lose members is to avoid kicking out a church for being insufficiently hostile to gays, as the SBC is now considering:

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee recommended in a unanimous vote Monday afternoon that the denomination cease its relationship with Broadway Baptist Church, a Fort Worth, Texas, congregation that has been the source of controversy over its stance on homosexuality.

The Executive Committee’s recommendation will be considered by SBC messengers during the annual meeting Tuesday or Wednesday.

At issue is whether the church is in violation of Article III of the SBC Constitution, which states that churches “which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” are not in friendly cooperation. Broadway Baptist has approximately five open homosexual members, including two male couples, according to church leaders. Some of the homosexuals serve on church committees.

The controversy over the church began last year when the question arose as to whether the homosexual couples should be pictured in a church directory. In the end, the church voted 294-182 to publish a directory without family portraits but with candid shots of members involved in various ministries and activities.

Stephen Wilson, a member of the Executive Committee and vice president for academic affairs at Mid-Continent University, emphasized to Baptist Press that the denomination encourages churches to reach out to people struggling with homosexuality. The issue with Broadway Baptist, though, is over a church allowing members who are homosexual and unrepentant.

“If churches are ministering to homosexuals, they are doing nothing more than what our own convention’s task force has asked us to do,” Wilson told Baptist Press. “But in Broadway’s case … the church was in effect saying that it was OK to have members who are open homosexuals.”

The Executive Committee’s recommendation says that the committee “recommends 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 Article III.”

Apparently the controversy began back in 2007over the idea of including gay couples in the membership directly and then expanded to include several other issues, leading to pastor to resign in mid-2008.

For it’s part, Broadway insists that “has never taken any church action to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior” but members of the Executive Committee don’t seem to buy that defense and have now recommended booting the church from the Southern Baptist Convention.

If the SBC is looking for ways to stem is declining membership, ousting churches for not being anti-gay enough seems like an odd first step.