LGBT-Affirming Baptist Church

December 20, 2017

What’s Happened Since a Texas Baptist Church Affirmed Homosexuality?

In November 2016, a prominent Dallas-area Baptist church cast a 577-367 vote to extend full membership to homosexually active people, including leadership ordination and marriage officiation. “Open to all, closed to none,” is now Wilshire Baptist Church’s proud slogan.

It’s been one year since the church’s controversial vote made headlines. What’s happened at Wilshire Baptist Church since then? To find out, the Institute on Religion and Democracy conducted a phone interview with Wilshire Baptist’s Senior Pastor George Mason.

Some church members have left, while others have joined. But Mason insists Wilshire continues to be a fruitful and orthodox church, depending on how you define fruitful and orthodox.

Moving towards LGBTQ affirmation

My first question was: how did a Texas Baptist church start out examining the same-sex dilemma facing the Church and then move to full affirmation of homosexually active behavior?

Long before Wilshire’s congregation voted or even considered a proposal on same-sex behavior, the church conducted a 14-month study to closely examine LGBTQ issues. The study was conducted by 19 church-elected representatives as part of an “Inclusion and Diversity Study Group.”

“This was sort of a way of helping the congregation hear about the Biblical [sic] and science and experience and different ways of looking at the issue that the study group was wrestling with,” said Pastor George Mason.

Upon completion of the study and before any proposal was made, the group presented their findings during a two-hour long seminar. (You can watch the entire seminar on YouTube here.)

“From that point, there were also roundtable discussions that we had where people had five opportunities to come and draw a number and randomly be placed at a table with others in the congregation who wanted to talk about their experience with this, their point of view, their way of thinking about it, just listening to one another and share,” explained Mason.

Next, the study group came to its conclusion, with the majority advocating full LGBTQ affirmation and a minority dissenting. Each presented their reports to the congregation. The church would soon vote on the majority’s recommendations.

“There was a church-wide meeting in which the recommendation was presented and we spent about two hours hearing from people in the congregation for or against the motion. And then after that, we voted,” explained Mason.

In fact, Wilshire’s congregants voted over two Sundays to be sure all members had the chance to cast their ballots. “Interestingly, it was the Sunday before the national election and the Sunday after, so there was a lot going on,” added Mason.

A total of 944 Wilshire members voted, with 577 in favor of full LGBTQ affirmation.

Losses versus gains

Fallout from the vote is what Mason calls “the biggest misjudgment of my ministry.”

Clarifying, Mason explained he was shocked by “the consequence of the number of people for whom this would be a decision they could no longer remain in the church.”

“So my miscalculation was that I knew that there would be a lot of people who would vote ‘no’ on this. What I didn’t know was they would leave over it,” admitted Mason.

At the time of the vote in November 2016, Mason noted Wilshire claimed about 1,500 active, resident members. After the vote in favor of LGBTQ affirmation, not all of those members continued calling Wilshire their church home.

“Months later, after the bleeding had stopped, the church counted its losses: About 250 members left, taking $700,000 of annual giving with them,” Advocate Magazine reported in November 2017. “Three Sunday school classes of older adults disappeared altogether.”

Mason confirmed the Advocate’s report of membership loss was accurate. However, he assured me new members continued to join Wilshire. Nearly 120 have joined since last November, he said later on in the interview.

“Let me say, yes we’ve lost these members. But again, we’ve gained back nearly half the ones we’ve lost. Maybe forty percent at this point,” explained Mason. “So yes, our numbers have declined in attendance. But I would remind us all numbers are declining in American Christianity all across the board. Year by year churches are all struggling with their attendance and their participation.”

For Mason, the decline in church attendance across the nation, as he notes, has to do with the growing rise of secularism in the West. Mason holds firm LGBTQ affirmation has less to do with a church’s decline.

“I think to put such a fine point on saying churches that choose to include LGBT persons fully or to affirm them are sort of the litmus test to whether you’re going to decline or you’re going to continue to grow, I don’t think that’s fair.”

Wilshire’s efforts were done in the name of inclusion and diversity. What I wanted to know was have their efforts actually resulted in more people from a variety of backgrounds?

“It’s not like we’ve seen a lot more African American folk or Latinos,” began Mason. “But the question really that we were asking is does that include LGBT persons. And so we were answering that question with this vote. The answer was yes it should, and it does. And yes, we have had a number of gay Christians join the church. And even more than that worshiping with us.”

However, the majority of Wilshire’s new members are not LGBTQ people, as Mason candidly offered.

“The majority of people—and there’s more than 100 now who have joined since the vote, maybe about 120 at this point—are not gay, but they want to be in a church that has no restrictions on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Mason. “But it’s not like Millennial gay people have joined our church in droves or anything like that. More of them have been middle age and Millennials.”

Research does suggest younger Evangelicals are increasingly more likely to affirm same-sex marriage than their older congregants. A recent Pew Research Center survey shows that while Millennials are still relatively conservative, 45 percent of younger Evangelicals favor same-sex marriage. By contrast, the survey found only 23 percent of Evangelicals born before 1981 favor same-sex marriage.

“It doesn’t take much to convince a Millennial that this is a decision the church should make. It does take a lot more to convince an older person who has grown up in a more traditional evangelical-like church,” commented Mason.

Following the footsteps of liberal Mainline Protestants?

A driving force behind Mason’s personal advocacy of the Church’s LGBTQ affirmation seemingly stems from his compassion for same-sex attracted Christians who are fated to a life of singleness and celibacy in non-affirming Evangelical churches.

“It seems to me [Evangelical churches] don’t have a fruitful path for gay Christians in non-affirming churches. I think if you try to think about where that leaves the Church, it leaves the Church with many gay Christians who do not have a way to exercise their spiritual gifts on behalf of the body of Christ in a healthy, wholesome way. They are forced to be among us, if they are at all, as people who must be alone.”

Of course, there do exist affirming denominations. Consider Mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church  or the United Church of Christ.

During the interview, I pointed out Washington D.C.’s massive Mainline Protestant sanctuaries that tout rainbow flags and yet see sparse and aging Sunday morning attendance.

Is it then that Wilshire is following the declining trajectory of some Mainline denominations who have adopted revisionist sexual ethics? Of course, Mason hopes not, but he offered, “Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question. I think we’re going to have to see.”

“Honestly, one of the difficulties for gay Christians is that they’ve had to choose between non-affirming churches or affirming churches that are single-issue churches. And we don’t think that’s necessary for us,” stated Mason. “We think to continue to be a church that has held to Christian orthodoxy in a healthy and whole way of presenting the Gospel and they can join us.”

What Mason does know is he doesn’t feel the need for his church to specifically advertise its LGBTQ affirmation with signs or rainbow flags outside the sanctuary.

“Now, in terms of our own church, what we’re going to try to do, I would say the answer to that is we have not taken the approach that we are going to make LGBTQ inclusion a single marketing issue for our church, so to speak,” explained Mason. “We don’t have it out on our sign. We don’t have rainbow flags. We don’t actually think that most gay Christians want to be singled out in some way. They want simply to be the body of Christ.”

And how about affirming Evangelical churches like the Nashville-area megachurch GracePointe? The IRD’s Jeffrey Walton, Anglican Programs Director, recently reported the major decline of GracePointe, a Nashville-area megachurch. After GracePointe’s Senior Pastor Stan Mitchell announced the church would embrace same-sex marriage, the megachurch lost more than half of its members and is experiencing financial strain.

“GracePointe for instance—I don’t know them very well, but I know who they are. Any of us might ask, if GracePointe were starting over today, if they were just to start and were to be the size they are and are an inclusive church, would we consider them to be a substantial congregation with a significant mission?,” Mason asked. “And I think the answer to that is yes. Because they once were of a larger size and because of this matter they are smaller, does that mean they are an insignificant church now? I don’t think so.”

He continued, “I think this whole question of what makes a congregation important in the kingdom of God…we have to have broader definitions of measurement of faithfulness, and vitality, and all of that than merely we once were this large and now we’re this large.”

Questioning orthodoxy

Most interestingly, Mason takes issue with how orthodoxy is being defined by conservative Christians.

“I often hear people, more conservative Evangelical people and Orthodox, Catholic, and whatnot, that this is a heretical point of view. For instance, it’s not part of Christian orthodoxy,” elaborated Mason. “And I’d just ask us to think about whether historically orthodoxy includes the question of marriage or if we’ve not added that as something we’re now adding to the doctrine of God, the Nicene Creed, all of that.”

Seemingly, Mason suggests conservative Christians are adding new, restrictive layers on what constitutes orthodoxy.

“So often what I start reading from people who are saying this is not orthodox or it’s Christian heresy, I want to say, ‘Where in the creed are we in violation?’ And then they’ll want to say, ‘Well let’s go to the Bible, the Bible plainly says.’ Alright, the Bible is not where we talk about Christian orthodoxy,” claimed Mason.

He added, “Historically, when we’ve talked about orthodoxy we’ve talked about it in terms of our creedal tradition of what orthodoxy is which has to do with who God is, with who is Jesus Christ, what is salvation, what is the nature of God…we have not had as part of these creeds, marriage is between a man and a woman only.”

Who gets it wrong?

Wilshire made headlines in 2016 when his state’s Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) swiftly severed ties with Wilshire for its departure from traditional Christian teaching on marriage.

The dissolved affiliation meant Wilshire could no longer send representatives, called “messengers,” to BGCT’s annual meetings; contribute funds to mission projects; or have congregants participate on the convention’s leadership boards and committees.

I found 215 churches in Dallas listed as affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. They include congregations such as Afrika Community Church, Gospel Light Eritrean Baptist Church, Iglesia Bautista Agape, and Brazilian International Baptist Church. Diverse in many ways, but not in their teachings on marriage.

When asked if these pastors from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds get the LGBTQ issue wrong, Mason answered, “I’m only responsible for, I think, what we do and for the decisions we make.”

He continued on:

What other people do is something they’re responsible for. I don’t judge other people’s decision about that. I do advocate, personally, for LGBT inclusion but I try not to interfere in other people’s churches about that because in our understanding of church as Baptist, even though we participate in conventions and the like, we’re not a connectionalist body. We’re not a denomination that makes a decision as a denomination. We’re a denomination that makes decisions as local churches.

Although Mason personally advocates for LGBTQ affirmation, he assured me he is not angry with conservative Christians who hold a traditional understanding of marriage. In fact, he says he held a traditional view of marriage for most of his ministry.

“God in time may prove that I was wrong about this, or that our church was wrong. I don’t know that,” concludes Mason. “But we only have this moment to be responsible for the decisions we make. And so I’m willing to live with that.”

One final thought

It was my intention to let the interview speak for itself, free of cluttering commentary from my countering opinions. (Although the ironic twist of roles was not lost on me. An older, white Baptist gentlemen advocating LGBTQ affirmation talking with a fully disclosed young Millennial woman writer who works for a conservative Christian think tank.)

However, I will add one comment here. It seems to me that Pastor Mason is not confident Wilshire will follow the more fruitful trajectory of orthodox evangelical churches. Instead, I believe he hopes to revise the definition of what it means to be a fruitful and orthodox church.

Can Wilshire steer away from becoming a once-effective church now aging and dying, like so many affirming Mainline churches? Mason is right, only time will tell.

I do pray for the success of Wilshire Baptist Church and for Pastor Mason. I pray the Holy Spirit reveal truth to Wilshire’s leadership and congregants and that they might share the undistorted Gospel and, ultimately, minister to lost souls in their Dallas community.

 


26 Responses to What’s Happened Since a Texas Baptist Church Affirmed Homosexuality?

  1. Jason says:

    I’m surprised more people didn’t leave a church that clearly has rejected the Word of God.

  2. William says:

    Satan could not have chosen a more effective issue this 21st century in his unrelenting effort to drive an immovable wedge between mankind and God than this rapidly evolving human sexuality phenomenon that has the more and more segments of the church by the throat.

  3. David Lee says:

    “….the Bible is not where we talk about Christian orthodoxy,” claimed Mason.
    There’s the problem in one sentence. The man is without a rudder.

    • Gary says:

      I agree David > this is a Bible issue…period. When we begin to change the interpretation of Holy Scripture to suit our needs, we are immediately plunged into a downward spiral of iniquity.

  4. Jim says:

    From my view the real issue is not the politics of sexuality rather, the authority of the Word of God. The bible is crystal clear on the issue of homosexuality. The theological gymnastics that some do to argue that “Paul really meant…… (fill in the blank),” is a hollow argument and therein lies the real issue. Is the scripture our authoritative Word of God or is it not? Practicing the homosexual lifestyle to fulfill the flesh is a sin pure and simple. We should NOT affirm this sin or any other. Instead, we should through the careful exposition of scripture; lead the sinner to repentance and relation with our Lord. If Paul was so confused on what he met then one has to wonder aloud “what kind of choice did Jesus make when he called Saul into ministry?” This legalistic Jew gave up everything to answer the call of Christ. Now some in the 21st century try to tell me that his writings are not what they say. That would make me scratch my head and wonder if Jesus got his pick wrong. – He did not.

    • Thomas says:

      I agree. St. Paul knew enought well the acceptance of same-sex relationships in the Ancient Greek and Roman world, including cases of so called “love”, so its absurd to pretend that he would have been supportive nowadays of unnatural relationships.

  5. Jim says:

    I hate to make any accusations as to motive, but the “scientific” part of the discussion was slanted and selective. It completely ignored the numerous identical twins studies disproving a genetic link, and relied heavily on very early and since discredited imaging studies. It also failed to report the findings of the Human Genome Project leader who has said there is no significant evidence of a genetic determinant for homosexuality. Since this group did its presentation, the Johns Hopkins University study has come out, reporting no biological determinant for homosexuality.

    On the Biblical analysis, they accepted as valid the “modern” reinterpretation which is based on the notion that scholars in the 20th Century knew better about what the meaning of the Greek spoken in the 1st Century than the people in the 1st Century speaking and writing in that Greek. No critical thought was applied to how 1st Century Greek speakers could have gotten it so wrong, nor how those Christians who were brutally persecuted for their faith could have been so ill-informed.

    I also did not hear anything about Jesus’ clear definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. That should have been a large segment of the presentation but I could not find it. They only addressed the “one flesh” passage.

    • Jim says:

      I just checked publication date and the Johns Hopkins report was released before this congregation voted.

      Also missing from the presentation is any mention of people who stopped engaging in homosexual acts through a new life in Christ. That is hard evidence they ignored.

    • Charles says:

      When they use the I was born that way, I always think back at how patent God was before he rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gamora. So would he have kill everyone in the two cities for something they could not help? NOOOO. They are not there for worship, they are there to dismantle!

  6. Judy says:

    My heart is heavy on the issue of homosexuality. It seems to be in every church. As I struggle with it trying to understand this phenomenon , I always come back to the Word of God as the ultimate defining moment for me. It really is crystal clear that it is an abominable sin. It is sad to see it spilling into the Baptist denomination. I have watched it devide the UMC of which I have been a member for 56 years. I feel very betrayed by our leadership. We finally made a stance against abortion but now we are faced with this and have been for 45 years. I can tell you I do not condone the pro-gay actions of bishops and leadership. I have considered staying home and watching Dr. Charles Stanley while contributing to needs I see within my own community. I question what is going on but am told to keep praying which I do. But the heaviness of my heart does not go away. So I believe in the new year, it is time for a decision to be made. I can no longer be a part of this unholy alliance and be at peace.

    • William says:

      Judy,
      My sentiments exactly. Sad, disheartened,
      and discouraged is where I seem to end up too often. even during worship service at my UMC. My recently retired minister privately encouraged me to, “don’t let them steal your joy”, and went on to say that the only solution to this conflict now is a division.

  7. Rick Harper says:

    Why speak of what is orthodox without asking the Orthodox Church? The Eastern Orthodox Church has been around since the beginning of Christianity. I recommend the following book addressing the Orthodox perspective of same sex attraction.

    Christian Faith and Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections
    Written by: Thomas Hopko

    Thomas Hopko is Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary and a retired professor of dogmatic theology. He has authored numerous works on all aspects of the Orthodox Church’s faith and practice. His writings have been translated into 15 languages. Fr. Hopko is a world-renowned lecturer at various Orthodox and ecumenical forums.

    • Quartermaster says:

      I’ve studied he claims of the Eastern Orthodox and found them wanting. Like the Roman Catholics they place tradition on the same level as scripture. Yes I know some like to say “reading the Bible in tradition,” but that’s simply a dodge. Reading in Patristics is nice and one learn from them, but scripture stands over everything, including tradition. If anything we do clashes with scripture, it must be rejected. Alas, Eastern orthodoxy does not agree.

  8. Mark J Riley says:

    The issue has never been about sex. The basic argument is the same argument in the divorice argument of the 1950’s. Either we will pander to selfish carnality that says I need, I want or I deserve or we will faithfully trust that God’s word is all that we need as Jesus did in the desert. Fall down and worship me and save the world the agony and casualties of spiritual warfare….Jesus said no. In today’s world he would be castigated as legalistic and hardline. Yet Jesus wrestled with a much more weighted choice than appeasing ones personal sexual gratification. He found no wiggle room in God’s word or his attitude towards sin. Because God is good and he loves his creation to much to let it eat the poison of sin.

  9. bradley hutt says:

    “Inclusion and Diversity Study Group.” The name reveals the truth in forming such a group to arrive at a predetermined conclusion.

  10. bradley hutt says:

    The Group name reveals the truth in a predetermined response.

  11. Henry Penner says:

    God’s word does not line up with man’s sinful desire to override what the Bible actually says in Roman 1:18-32God’s Wrath Against Sinful Humanity

    18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

    24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

    26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

    28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

  12. Randy says:

    It is contradictory for a Baptist to not look to the Bible as the standard of what is orthodox. Baptist are a non-credal and look to the Bible as the final authority of doctrine.

    • H.L. Jackson says:

      Randy,
      Most confessional, reformed denominations adhere to Sola Scriptura with their confessions and catechisms being subject to and underneath the authority of scripture. Having creeds and confessions is not mutually exclusive from submission to God’s Word alone.

  13. Paul Zesewitz says:

    Not to sound judgmental, but Wilshire ought to (if it hasn’t already done so) join the American Baptist Churches USA. They, among other Baptist organizations, have been known to have a much more free interpretation of the Bible. They emphasize, much more than do other Baptists, what they call ‘soul liberty’–that is, the freedom to interpret the Bible as they wish, with the holy Spirit’s guidance. This view of Scripture definitely allows for LGBT-type views. Just a suggestion.

    • Quartermaster says:

      One can claim “soul liberty” all they like, but when it leads to heresy, the soul liberty must be rejected. Affirming homosexuality in any of its forms, is heresy.

  14. Flatland Hillbilly says:

    There are those of us in the Dallas area who remember that Wilshire was fully behind the “moderate” side of the Sola Scriptura” debate in the SBC two decades ago. I am not surprised at this latest move. I find the word “fruitful” interesting in reference to the homosexual lifestyle.

  15. Johnny Lotsaheart says:

    I accepted Christ when I was 8 years old and was a member of fundamentalist baptist churches most of my life but no longer. I thank my God always for opening my eyes and heart to His Word (KJB) for 49 years now I think it’s sad that most of these postings have been arrogant, negative and narrow minded. Baptist were wrong on slavery, women’s rights, civil rights, etc and all those years claimed the Bible supported it and used theBible to ridicule and mock others who did not agree with them. Quite sad.

  16. Endi says:

    Mason blames his congregation’s declining numbers on the fact that Christianity is declining everywhere, he is mistaken. Christianity is growing stronger according to the latest study by Harvard.

    http://thefederalist.com/2018/01/22/new-harvard-research-says-u-s-christianity-not-shrinking-growing-stronger/

    Also, the same exact thing happened at a church in Franklin Tennessee. Grace Point. This church had approximately 1500 members and decided to openly support the LGBT movement. In a years time, say quickly dwindled down to 250 members. They decided to move to Nashville where the preacher of Gracepoint said they would have more support. But this completely opposes what Christianity is all about. Christianity is placed in a community or society that needs it the most. The church is there to convert people, not for the community to support them. if they really believe that their message was accurate and that their purpose was to reach people’s then they would stay in the community that needs them the most.

  17. Endi says:

    And something to think about, something to add… If you’re going to believe in the Bible, then believe in the Bible. If you’re not going to believe in the Bible then don’t believe in it. If any part of the book that you preach from is wrong, then what makes any of it right? Using the argument that man wrote the Bible in man can make mistakes is a core argument. Because if man can make mistakes in writing the Bible, then man can make mistakes interpreting what is right and wrong in the message. It is face. Either you believe that the Bible is a message from God or you believe it is a message from man. Either you believe it is right or you believe it is wrong. There is no in between.

  18. Quartermaster says:

    “Alright, the Bible is not where we talk about Christian orthodoxy,” claimed Mason.”

    Any man making such a claim is not a christian. Period. He is a heretic and must be avoided as such.

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