Stalking the ‘moderate’ Southern Baptist

fworthbbc2It 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.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Brian Walden

    I think one of the problems with the word moderate in relation to religion is that its nearly always used in reference to the beliefs of the person using it rather than to the beliefs of the particular group it refers to.

    For example, I’m not exactly sold that, “Broadway is well known in Southern Baptist circles as a moderate church.” From what the reporter describes it sounds to me like Broadway is well known in Souther Baptist circles as what the reporter would refer to as a moderate Church. I could be mistaken, but it doesn’t sound like Broadway Church falls in the middle of the spectrum for churches in Southern Baptist circles.

    My $.02 for the picture issue is to ask what their policy is for unmarried, co-habitating, heterosexual couples who want to be pictured together in the directory? Are they allowed to do so? Are they asked to take their pictures separately? Are they not allowed to be in the directory at all due to their manifestly sinful relationship?

  • Asinus Gravis

    Perhaps the last of your three criteria is involved–depending on what you suppose counts as marriage in God’s eyes. It is clear that what counts as marriage varies from state to state, country to country, and religious group to religious group–not to mention century to century.

    I fail to see how either of the other two are clearly implicated in this Baptist case. The leaders at Broadway and Myers Park may have a different read on what it means to talk about the resurrection of Jesus, but that is not germane here, as far as I can see. And if you see Jesus as God incarnate, then to claim that salvation is only through God, would not seem to be involved here either. The heroes of faith in the Hebrew Scriptures had never heard of Jesus of Nazareth any more than the people who have found God via their Hindu, or Incan religion.

    Of course, you could simply be way too subtle for my simple mind.

    My suggestion for the Broadway membership guide is to list individuals as individuals (without regard to their sexual behavior or relationships). They could do it alphabetically, or by age, or by size of their tithe or contribution, or by how long they have been “saved,” or by how long they have been a member at Broadway, or by the cost of their homes, or any number of other criteria for arrangement of individual persons. They just need a bit more imagination (other than one fired by sexual preoccupation).

  • tmatt


    But there is the problem, and the story. Can anyone use the word SIN any more on sexuality issues?

    Forget politics. Think doctrine.

  • Brian Walden

    tmatt, I was thinking doctrine throughout my whole post – both in reference to the term moderate and the directory issue. I try to stay out of politics. Maybe I have a misconception about what the average Southern Baptist theological views are.

    I use the word sin on sexuality issues. I hope others do too when they believe something to be sinful.

    I don’t understand what you’re asking? I asked those my questions under the assumption that most Southern Baptists believe sex outside marriage is sinful. Therefore they should treat homosexual sinners the same way they treat heterosexual sinners for their directory. I wasn’t saying that no one should be excluded from being in the directory as a couple. I was saying that if the church feels it creates scandal to have couples who aren’t in fact couples in the eyes of God displayed as couples in the directory, they should exclude all such couples not merely homosexual ones.

  • Ken

    A bit of background: Broadway Baptist has an impressive community ministry to the homeless, as well as to various community groups, such as the Parkinson’s association. A large agency serving abused and neglected children began there back during the depression, when congregant Lena Pope cared for orphans in the Broadway basement. They have been active participants in various other ministries in town. I just wish they had a regular organ concert series to show off the instrument Van Cliburn (a long-time member) gave in honor of his mother.

    Broadway has also had openly gay members for at least a decade. I am thinking one was elected a deacon, but that may have been at Riverbend Baptist in Austin. Let’s be clear: “openly gay” means that the homosexually oriented person is sexually active, or reserves to himself the right to be so. One of them was on TV the other night, standing in front of Broadway, declaring that God had made him gay, and the church needed to affirm that. That is, perhaps, the relevant doctrinal issue.

    Well, I am not going crawl into the swamp of same-sex issues, particularly on this site, but I would note a couple of journalistic aspects. The recent television report on this, which is what I saw, was very respectful of the congregation, while giving the “openly gay” member the last word. Broadway has always gotten good press around here, probably due, in part, to their social ministries. It doesn’t hurt that Jim Jones, for many years the religion reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (and he may still be for all I know), was (and maybe still is) a member of Broadway Baptist. That’s not a jab, although I do think there has been a lot of mislabelling. Broadway is, in the Baptist world, not “moderate”, it’s “liberal”.

    Well, let me stick one toe into the swamp. This can’t be resolved by comparing same-sex couples to different-sex couples and their marital status. These gay couples consider themselves “married”, I assume, since they want to be pictured together. In effect, they are asking congregational affirmation of their relationships on a par with married heterosexual couples, not heterosexual shack-ups.

  • Mattk

    Mybe it doesn’t need to be said because the story is in Texas and everyone there already know about them, but I would have written something about the Baptist Distinctives and whether or not, and if so,how they are being used for polemical purposes by the players in this drama.

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  • Eric Chaffee

    Tmatt asks: “What is the crucial doctrine at stake?”

    I would say: Jesus? or Paul? (“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” versus, “it is reported that there is fornication among you.”)

    So, who you gonna call: Ghost-busters?

    Jesus observes:”If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.” (He’s being sarcastic, here!) In effect, he tweaks us by asking: can sin be cured through surgery?

    Those who are too embarrassed to appear in church with [other] sinners ought not to go, nor allow themselves to be photographed there. Like Twain said: I wouldn’t want to join any club which would elect me into membership.


  • Stephen A.

    I would have asked a couple of questions. First, are homosexual marriages solemnized in the church? (I doubt this, personally) and does the church welcome openly practicing homosexuals as members?

    Personally, if either one is true, then what’s the issue? If that line’s been crossed, wouldn’t the next step surely be picturing them together in the book.

    I say this knowing that this is not as simple as all that, and indeed, the reporter should do follow ups about the doctrinal changes that are likely happening. Because if the Social Gospel is becoming more emphasized, it’s only natural that more liberal members will be attracted, causing a de-emphasis on those old-fashioned words like “sin” and “tradition” or even “Doctrine,” and more emphasis on a more simple faith, based on simply loving one another.

    Saying the church is just torn up by this photo issue seems “code” for saying that issues of doctrine and polity are also being reevaluated. But many readers simply won’t grasp that deeper struggle.

    The “moderate” labeling debate here seems to be a distraction, and use of that word in the story detracts from the main issues.

  • Aaron Weaver

    Is it even appropriate to refer to BBC as a “moderate Southern Baptist” congregation as the title suggests.

    Does Broadway even affiliate with the SBC anymore? I see no mention of the SBC on their website and BBC is not even included over at via ChurchSearch.

    Many “moderate Baptist” congregations no longer give one dime to the Southern Baptist Convention. Most cut ties with the SBC a decade or more ago. The “Southern” is no longer necessary.

  • Ken

    Broadway is listed on the Tarrant Baptist Association website as a member congregation. That is the local Southern Baptist association. Searching on the SBC website got a hit on BBC, as did a search on the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The Southern Baptists of Texas (a conservative split from the BGCT) did not list Broadway. This suggests Broadway has membership in the SBC through the more liberal Baptist General Convention of Texas. How much they participate, I don’t know.

  • scriblerus

    “The Dallas Morning News — that great bastion of mainline Protestant culture in heavily evangelical Texas — and I missed it.”

    I missed something here–the DMN is owned and run by Catholics, very active Catholics. Some of them took the lead took the lead in trying to get Bishop Grahmann to resign after the Rudy Kos case.

  • GV

    “My $.02 for the picture issue is to ask what their policy is for unmarried, co-habitating, heterosexual couples who want to be pictured together in the directory? Are they allowed to do so? Are they asked to take their pictures separately? Are they not allowed to be in the directory at all due to their manifestly sinful relationship?“

    Interesting question, Brian. Beyond that, I would add that I would wonder whether, if they were to make same sex married couples separate in photos, would they do the same for remarried divorcees. After all, the gospels say nothing regarding the former yet denounce the latter as adulterous relationships.
    It`s odd that such an inordinate amount of attention is focused on same sex couples.

  • Aaron Weaver

    In several of the more “moderate” state conventions, churches can designate whether their missions offering goes to the SBC or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

    I belong to a “moderate” Baptist church in Waco, Texas that is affiliated with the BGCT yet does not give designate one dime to the ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    In the case of Myers Park, they affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina up until a few weeks ago. During that period, they too did not designate any funds to the SBC through their state convention.

    If Broadway designates zero dollars to SBC (and due to their history as a leading congregation in the CBF I would bet on it), it seems inaccurate to then dub them a “moderate Southern Baptist church.”

    And the Broadway Baptist found via Church Search is located in Houston not Fort Worth.

  • Glenn Lucke


    Were you at Myers Park Baptist when Carlyle Marney was there?

  • Ken

    If you enter 76104 on the SBC churchsearch feature, you will hit the Fort Worth Broadway.

    As to the Catholic publishers of the DMN, they are a particular kind of Catholic. I knew them slightly 20 years ago,when we were at the same parish, which is the most liberal in Dallas. 80% of that parish lived outside the parish boundaries; going to Holy Trinity was a Statement for many folks. Moreover, the DMN is editorially pro-choice and their religion section (now defunct) routinely ran critical articles on Christianity, and Catholicism in particular while fawning on Islam, eastern religions, and liberal/modernist versions of Christianity. Easter always brought out the Jesus Seminar and/or Bishop Spong to trash the Resurrection. Christmas one year was greeted was a long article on how inhospitable people find churches they visit.

    As Phillip Jenkins (an ex-catholic himself) noted, there is no anti-Catholic like a liberal Catholic.

  • Brian Walden


    While I agree with you, I didn’t intend get into doctrinal differences between my faith and the SBC. It’s my understanding that the average (or what I would call “moderate”) Southern Baptist believes sex outside marriage is sinful, while the average Southern Baptist does not believe remarriage after divorce is sinful. I might be wrong in that assumption, but I framed my question around what I thought were standard Southern Baptist beliefs.

  • Brian Walden

    As an exercise, would anyone call the publishers of the DMN moderate Catholics from the description Ken gave? They sound like they’re closer to what both the average American and the average American Catholic believes than than what the Catholic Church officially teaches. Or when describing Catholics should moderate refer to the official Catholic teachings, which would make the publishers of the DMN liberal according to Ken’s account.

    And, judging from tmatt’s comment, the word moderate is sometimes used politically even when referring to religious groups. I never even thought that the reporter might have meant that the members of Broadway Baptist Church are baptist but, you know, not those republican baptists.

    Are there any rules among journalists for what exactly moderate should refer to when reporting religion? Is moderate maybe the wrong word to use in reference to religion? It seems like the way the media uses it, to be a moderate member of a religious group usually means that a person’s beliefs don’t match the standard beliefs of the group being described? Should terms such as orthodox/heterodox or some other type of notation that’s more precise than moderate be used instead?

  • Marla

    My $.02 for the picture issue is to ask what their policy is for unmarried, co-habitating, heterosexual couples who want to be pictured together in the directory? Are they allowed to do so? Are they asked to take their pictures separately? Are they not allowed to be in the directory at all due to their manifestly sinful relationship?My $.02 for the picture issue is to ask what their policy is for unmarried, co-habitating, heterosexual couples who want to be pictured together in the directory? Are they allowed to do so? Are they asked to take their pictures separately? Are they not allowed to be in the directory at all due to their manifestly sinful relationship?

    Co-habitating couples (if there are any) were not allowed to be photographed to my knowledge. One couple (not-cohabiting), about to marry in November, had special permission to have their picture taken together, as they would be married when the directory came out. The couple are in my Sunday School class. It was an issue when our class discussed the homosexual couple directory issue the first time, as our classmembers had to have special “dispensation.”
    Homosexual couples are not obvious, for the most part. Many congregants would not even be aware that they’re in the pew with you.

  • Summer

    I am still bothered that Broadway was called a “moderate” SBC church. Broadway belongs to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.