The Baptist General Convention of Texas has expelled an Austin church that actively supports homosexuals and has a gay deacon.
The convention’s 180-member executive board, meeting in Dallas this week, supported a motion to disassociate itself from the University Baptist Church.
Last month, convention officials learned that the church’s World Wide Web site mentions its affiliation with the convention.
“We cannot approve of churches endorsing homosexual practice as biblically legitimate,” said Fort Worth Pastor Charles Davenport, head of the committee that drafted the motion.
The church has had a tenuous relationship with the convention since it ordained an openly gay deacon, Hans Venable, in 1994. The church sponsors and invites homosexuals to participate in Open Circle, a ministry for gays and lesbians.
The Texas Baptist Convention, which is controlled by moderates, has had a simmering dispute with the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention. Russell Dilday, president of the Texas group, denied that the vote was designed to placate conservative members threatening to break away.
Executive board members insisted that their vote was not a condemnation of the church’s acceptance of homosexuals into its ministry and congregation.
“We commend the church for their ministry, and we feel that churches should minister [to homosexuals],” Davenport said. “But ministering to is different than an affirmation of, and we interpret [the church’s activities] to be an affirmation of.”
University Baptist Pastor Larry Bethune said he doesn’t understand the distinction.
“I don’t feel very commended as a church for our ministry to gays and lesbians today,” Bethune said after the vote. “The convention has an odd way of showing it.”