It has been a long, long, long time since I have been inside the imposing sanctuary of the Broadway Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas. I do remember my first impressions, however. I walked in, looked around, whistled a few notes to test the acoustics (I am one of those classical-music choir fanatics), and said to myself, "This looks like a Presbyterian church to me." Indeed, Broadway had a very oldline Protestant air to it back in the 1970s, when I lived in Texas and was very active in one of those strange, liturgically minded Southern Baptist congregations that mainstream reporters like to describe with that troublesome adjective "moderate."
As it turns out, Broadway Baptist has a fight going on in its pews right now that is, in many ways, linked to the wider, national story that your GetReligionistas keep noting from time to time -- the painful rise of a true evangelical Protestant left.
The bottom line: When does a church cross a line from its old roots in evangelicalism and into its new home in mainline Protestantism? What are the signs that you need to look for, in terms of doctrine and in terms of, well, sociology?
This story ran last weekend in The Dallas Morning News -- that great bastion of mainline Protestant culture in heavily evangelical Texas -- and I missed it. The key issue: Should this church have photos of gay members and/or gay couples in its 125th anniversary photo album? The sharply divided church has decided it will hold off making a decision -- perhaps, I think, in light of media coverage.
Doesn't this sound mainline Protestant? Thus, the News notes:
Broadway is well known in Southern Baptist circles as a moderate church, where a diversity of views is welcomed and women have a strong role in leadership. The church has long had gay members.
But controversy erupted recently over whether photographs of gay couples should be in the directory being assembled for the church's anniversary.
Brett Younger, senior pastor, said during Sunday morning's worship service that some Broadway members believe homosexuality is a sin, based on certain Bible verses. Others think differently and note that Bible verses have been used to justify polygamy, slavery and the oppression of women, he said.
Earlier, in a church newsletter, Dr. Younger wrote that some members feel that allowing gay couples' photos in the directory would be too strong an endorsement of homosexuality. Others hold that letting gay members be shown in the directory, but only on an individual basis, would constitute an unfair "judgment" against gay couples, he wrote.
A third option, recommended by Dr. Younger, would forgo individual and family pictures in favor of more attention to the church's worship, Sunday school and ministries.
In other words, there is a point of doctrine here that cannot be avoided. The final option is to try to avoid it. The congregation is delaying the Baptist option -- vote on it and the winners, well, win -- because it is clear that there will be high costs either way.
But what about Broadway's high standing in the world of "moderate" Baptist churches? This is where this story adds one key detail that shows what life is really like out in this small, niche-Baptist world on the left side of the sanctuary aisle. Pay close attention:
... (Some) Baptist churches welcome gay people as they are. One is Myers Park Baptist of Charlotte, N.C., which left the SBC years ago but continued to be affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
When the state convention decided that its churches must refuse to "affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless homosexual behavior," Myers Park turned itself in as not following such a policy. Last month, amid much publicity, state convention "messengers" voted to expel the church.
Myers Park's pastor, Stephen Shoemaker, preceded Dr. Younger as pastor of Broadway Baptist.
What a small world. Myers Park was the last Baptist church I called home, before starting my pilgrimage toward the ancient church.
So what is the crucial doctrine at stake in this story? You will not be surprised that I think the doctrines in the infamous tmatt trio -- click here or here -- are lurking in the background. I also wondered, frankly, if one of the reasons this Broadway fight is so painful is that this church is aging and that gays and lesbians may be a powerful new force, in terms of energy and money, in a declining congregation.
That might be a good angle for a follow-up report. Broadway Baptist is not alone.