With relatively little fanfare, and no discussion, our church seamlessly switched affiliation last night from the Baptist General Convention of Texas to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. The discussion took place at a town hall meeting held the previous Sunday, following about two months of study and the work of a team that was put in place last August. Many questions were asked, and answered, and concerns were addressed. The team was prepared with several different approaches, had there been anyone who had a reasonable objection to a complete switch. There was none, and as a result of the vote, the church will pursue unique affiliation with the SBTC.
There has been a lot of talk among Baptists in Texas about “tactics” used by the SBTC to get churches to switch their affiliation, and about “lies” told about the BGCT. I can say with certainty that was not the case here. We’ve been visited in the past year by individuals representing both conventions, and when it came down to the actual presentations made to the church, the team that had been given that assignment was responsible for gathering the information and presenting it to the church. We were aware of several other churches in our association which had made similar decisions in recent months, and our decision basically followed the same pattern.
Ultimately, there were two issues which led to the decision. One involved acceptance of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, though that was not the main reason. The second involved the direction of the BGCT as it relates to the Southern Baptist Convention. This church has never approved of the reduction in the share of Cooperative Program money going from the BGCT to the SBC, and has been particularly concerned with both the IMB’s portion, and what goes to theological education. It has also not been able to come to a point where it shared in the BGCT leadership’s vision of operating its own entities related to mission-sending, theological education and literature publication. Over the years, a number of our church families have had students at BGCT-related educational entities, and some of them have reported things taught in classrooms that were not consistent either with their own personal convictions, developed as they were raised in the church, or with those of the church.
The politics of the past few decades has also had an effect on the church’s perception of its convention relationships. Many Houston area churches already feel a sense of separation, and sometimes of deliberate exclusion, from convention-related events, or even informal gatherings, perceiving that the leadership is very oriented toward, and sensitive to the needs of a Dallas-Metroplex oriented constituency. The bulk of Houston-area appointees to committees and boards are from CBF-affiliated churches, and there is a strong perception here that the BGCT has picked out a small group of “prominent” congregations from which all of the region’s leaders are selected. Likewise, there is the perception that the group which has controlled BGCT leadership has sometimes chosen leaders who, rather than being willing to work with all constituencies in the state convention, have been deliberately antagonistic toward those who prefer to keep close ties with the SBC. A good percentage of our church leadership was very well aware of Valleygate, which certainly did not help improve the image of the previous BGCT administration.
I’m sure there are some other factors involved. In recent years, as the church has transitioned to attempt to minister in a highly diverse inner city neighborhood that has seen major turnover in home ownership, massive re-development, and soaring property values because of its historic appeal and proximity to downtown, many of those in the church who are under 50 and who have joined here in the last decade have come either from one of the more conservative megachurches, or via the baptistry, and are still in the early stages of discipleship. We have a group of members who left a mainline Protestant church over “liberal” theology and practices, and several families who came from a nearby moderate Baptist church when it affiliated with CBF. So there is some political influence.
For me, personally, it is not something I would have anticipated supporting as recently as five years ago. However, though it may seem like it has been a long journey from where I was to where I am now, to me it feels somewhat like a return home after having been on a long, long trip.
I wish the BGCT well. Denominational organizations, including both Texas Baptist conventions, the SBC, and virtually all others, are facing some challenges related to a paradigm shift we call “post-denominationalism.” Churches are facing it, too. I suspect the future will look far different than what we see now, or than what we might even be able to imagine.