FW churches debating gay questions

By John Wright Staff Writer

Broadway Baptist to vote on including same-sex couples in directory



David Reed

FORT WORTH David Reed recalls his unsuccessful attempt in the early 1990s to join Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

Reed, now president of the Tarrant County Lesbian and Gay Alliance, said despite the support of then-senior minister Stephen Shoemaker, church deacons opted to deny him membership because of his sexual orientation.

Broadway Baptist later convened a committee to study the issue, but the deacons ultimately upheld their decision.

Fast forward a decade-and-a-half, and Broadway Baptist is still struggling with the gay issue. This time, the 1,500-member church finds itself divided over the question of whether to include photographs of gay members in a yearbook commemorating its 125th anniversary.

“They [the deacons] recommended that the church leave the bylaws as they were, so it had the effect of putting off confrontation with the issue to another day, and apparently that day has arisen 15 years later,” Reed told Dallas Voice this week. “Who would have dreamed that a decision to publish a pictorial directory of a church would be the occasion for addressing the place of gay people in the church? I certainly would not have.”

The controversy at Broadway Baptist is one of two involving gays and churches in Forth Worth that have made headlines in recent weeks.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth took the first steps toward leaving the national church mainly because of a dispute over Scriptural interpretation and homosexuality. The Fort Worth diocese is among four of 110 nationally that have moved to align themselves with overseas Anglican leaders in response to the Episcopal Church’s more tolerant views on gays. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. Anglican body.

“The fact that they’re happening at the same time in Fort Worth is a coincidence as far as I can tell,” Reed said of the two church controversies. “It’s brought a lot of attention to the way that gay people relate to churches, and I think that’s an important conversation to be having. Fort Worth isn’t experiencing anything that other places haven’t experienced and won’t experience.”

“‘A long time coming’

Reed said the Fort Worth Episcopal Diocese has been “uncharacteristically traditionalist” for the last 30 years.

“This has been a long time coming,” Reed said of the potential split. “It should not be a surprise to anybody.”

According to the Associated Press, a majority of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican community believe biblical scripture condemns homosexuality, while a majority in the Episcopal Church do not.

The rift has widened since the Episcopal Church’s consecration of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003. Since then, dioceses in Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Calif., and Quincy, Ill., have joined Fort Worth in moving toward severing ties with the denomination.

A series of constitutional amendments related to the split passed overwhelmingly during the Fort Worth diocese’s annual convention two weeks ago, AP reported.

Suzanne Gill, a spokeswoman for the diocese, told Dallas Voice the amendments must be ratified during next year’s convention before they become final.

Gill described the reason behind the amendments as the Episcopal Church’s “drift from Holy Scripture.” She said in addition to homosexuality, the drift includes things like the denomination’s decision to begin ordaining women in the 1970s.

“A lot of people described homosexuality as being the presenting symptom, and I think for a lot of people it was the thing that sparked their urge to make change,” Gill said. “That’s not the only thing by any means.”

The Fort Worth diocese’s move followed a testy exchange of letters between Jack Iker, bishop for the diocese, and Katharine Jefferts Schori, the national church’s presiding bishop.

In a letter Nov. 8, Schori threatened disciplinary action if Ikur continued to support the amendments. On Nov. 12, Iker responded by accusing Schori of “aggressive, dictatorial posturing.”

“‘In the closet with the door wide open’

Schumaker, the senior minister at Broadway Baptist who supported Reed’s application for membership, eventually moved on to lead Myers Park Baptist Church in North Carolina. Coincidentally, Myers Park recently was expelled from North Carolina’s Baptist Convention for welcoming gays and lesbians.

“I’m proud that they’ve given him the opportunity to be the advocate that I believe that he really wanted to be,” Reed said of Schumaker.

Broadway Baptist, meanwhile, is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which includes churches that broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention when it started becoming more conservative.

According to a report in the Star-Telegram of Fort Worth, Broadway Baptist has developed an unwritten policy over the years of allowing gay members.

However, no gay couple has ever been pictured in the church’s directory.

The Rev. Brett Younger, pastor of Broadway Baptist, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In October, as the church was putting together the 125th anniversary edition of the directory, a gay couple asked to be pictured together, according to the Star-Telegram. But the lay member who was coordinating the directory believed the church had a policy against that, so the couple was photographed both together and individually. Two other gay couples also later requested to appear in the directory.

The issue was discussed by deacons and during a monthly business meeting attended by about 250 church members. Ultimately it was decided that the congregation will vote on a proposal to allow the gay men to be pictured separately but have their names appear together in the telephone listings. The vote is scheduled for Dec. 2.

The gay men, who asked not to be identified, agreed to be pictured separately, saying they don’t consider themselves activists, according to the Star-Telegram.

Reed called the situation “peculiar.”

“It’s like being in the closet with the door wide open,” Reed said. “That’s the position that the church will place them in if they accept the recommendation. I really don’t’ think that in the long run, playing along to get along will accomplish our goals.”

E-mail wright@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 30, 2007

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