In Waco, yesterday, delegates to the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) voted to exclude churches that allow LGBTQ Christians the full rights of church membership. Baptists have long been champions of local church autonomy, meaning each individual church possesses the authority to derive their own theological convictions and practices as their conscience dictates. The churches that adopted a more inclusive policy were not asking the convention to affirm their decisions, but convention leaders felt they possessed the authority to demand conformity to their views or be excluded from fellowship.
There are a myriad of troublesome issues with this action, but I would like to begin with the small tent movement. For what seems like decades now, Baptists have continued to adopt and practice a small tent approach to the Christian faith. Through a practice of purging other Baptists using theological purity and political loyalty, leaders have shrunken Baptist tents to the extent they will have no space for future generations. Current leaders in some Baptist entities practice a “conform and control” type of theology. If any church that reads the Scriptures and comes to another conviction, then they are excused and excluded from fellowship.
This type of theological process prevents Christians and churches from exploring the Scriptures; challenging their own preconceived notions; and drawing new understandings about God, how he relates to the world, and how we relate to each other. In other words, it discourages a cognitive approach to faith. Jesus instructs us to place our minds on heavenly things, which encourages us to cognitively engage faith so that we might discover a deeper appreciation and understanding of God’s ways. If the church would have ceased to think and challenge its own doctrines previously, then our culture would still be excluding black people from water fountains and preventing women from voting.
Opponents will say that they are not shrinking the tent, but that those of us coming to a different understanding of ministry are stepping outside the traditional tent. From my vantage point, they are both right and wrong. They are correct that we appear to be stepping away, but not because we are rejecting them. We are stepping away because we have decided to follow the Holy Spirit that is guiding us on a new journey of exploration and understanding. We are simply attempting to live out our faith as we feel the Holy Spirit is convicting us. They are misguided when they say the tent is not shrinking. As more and more people from a younger generation want to be a part of a gracious and loving church that promotes social justice, the tent needs to expand to accommodate them. In other words, the current tent needs to grow because the crowd is growing. If it fails to grow by denying freedom and autonomy, then it is shrinking.
Finally, the actions of the Texas Baptist delegates have excluded more than just two churches this week. They have excluded my church. At NorthHaven Church we honor the priesthood of every believer and celebrate local church autonomy, therefore establishing and practicing a big tent approach to Christianity. We have members on both sides of this issue, but we have chosen to cherish freedom above conformity. Our LGBTQ members are granted the same rights as every other member, therefore fully affirming them as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are certainly saddened by the BGCT’s decision, but many of us have been here before when the Southern Baptist Convention excluded us as we stood up for freedom. As I step away from the BGCT, my prayers go with them as I join others in a continuing process of building a bigger tent.