DALLAS – Wilshire Baptist Church has voted to grant gays and lesbians full membership to the church, which would allow them to be considered for leadership positions, and grant same sex marriages.
The resolution passed by a 61 percent majority in a final vote which was released on Monday afternoon.
"We want to normalize life as quickly as possible for LGBT folk. And this is not a one-issue church. It's a church and we're simply saying the Gospel is open to all and closed to none,” said Senior Pastor George Mason said of the congregational vote.
Of the 948 ballots cast, 577 voted in favor, 367 were against it, and four people abstained.
This issue first arose a couple years ago, said Mason.
"We had a gay man in our church who kept being nominated to be ordained as a Deacon - year in and year out," he explained.
But church bylaws prevented it.
In addition, Pastor Mason said, the congregation has young people who have recently come out as gay and lesbian, not to mention the struggle the church has had with how to handle the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing same sex marriage.
The congregation’s vote concluded 14 months of study in which members interpreted scripture, re-read bylaws, and considered consequences.
Wilshire Baptist, located on Abrams Rd. near Mockingbird Ln. in northeast Dallas, has already lost some membership because of it, said Associate Pastor Mark Wingfield.
“We've lost more than a few over the 14 months of the study,” he explained. “Merely studying it, people have walked away.”
Texas Baptists, formerly known as the Baptist General Convention of Texas, has threatened to cut ties with the Dallas congregation, as well. It explained in a statement to News 8:
“This is a painful time for Texas Baptists. We have deep respect and appreciation for Wilshire Baptist Church. While Texas Baptists are loving, respectful and welcoming to all people, we have a longstanding and often reaffirmed biblical position on human sexuality. As in the past, when a church chooses a position outside of the BGCT position, that church effectively withdraws from harmonious cooperation. The BGCT values the autonomy of the local church and the harmony which is vital to the Convention’s purpose of fostering cooperative missions and ministries.”
But each Baptist church is autonomous. Separating from the state convention affects mission work, not ministry. And Wilshire will not lose the Baptist name.
"Because of the position we have now taken, they don't want to receive our money for the hunger offering. I think it is astonishing to think the Baptist General Convention of Texas would turn away our direct contribution of hunger offering money because they disagree with us on the inclusion of persons who identify in the LGBT community,” said Wingfield.
In response to Texas Baptists, Pastor Mason said: "They're good people and we value them and their friendship across time but we disagree. We don't believe a state convention actually has a theological position it can enforce upon its churches. They really need to bring this conversation to their executive board. There is no automatic dismissal that takes place. We believe there is a due process that should be followed."
Mason and Wingfield said there are other Baptist churches in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin which have already made efforts to include LGBT members.
"Our church knows that there are consequences of our decision," Mason said. "We think there will be many positive consequences for being able to say to the LGBT community that they are welcome here fully, in Christ."
The resolution on the church's website reads:
"...would permit all members to participate in congregational life on the same basis as any other church member regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This affirms the ability of the church’s committees and lay and staff governance structures to consider all members for leadership, ordination, baby dedication and marriage based upon individual merit and the discernment of those duly elected to governance positions."
"This is not an easy decision. I mean, this is cutting to the core of very strong beliefs that people have on both sides," said Casey Boland, a 10-year member of this congregation.
"The reasons that have been used for why people should vote ‘no' are the same reasons that were used for - why divorced people should not be allowed to be in the church, why blacks and whites should not be allowed to be married, why women should not be pastors. It just, in my view, rings hollow.” said Boland.
But some members who opposed the vote and asked not to have their names used, said their opposition is based on what they have been taught.
Pastor Mason said, "Everyone who disagrees with us does not hate gay people. They just have a different way of understanding what are the boundaries that a church ought to exercise in its love and acceptance of all people."
The church has about 1,600 active members.
Since its first service 65-years ago, Wilshire Baptist has always considered itself progressive. In 1991, it ordained women.