DALLAS - Members of a southern Baptist church in East Dallas voted in favor of allowing LGBT members to openly worship and serve there.
After a year-long process, Wilshire Baptist Church members voted to allow everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to participate in church activities like marriage, holding leadership positions and ordination. Of the 948 votes cast, 61% of them were in favor of the new policy.
“It's here to stay. You can't put it under the rug and not deal with it. Every human is created in the image of God,” said church member Bill O’Brien.
Some church members said they’re still against the idea of letting LGBT members in but did not want to talk on camera.
The vote has landed the church in hot water with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. The convention sent a letter to Wilshire Baptist Church after it got word of the vote, saying they risked expulsion if the voted passed.
“They made a firm stand that any church that would be affirming of same-sex sexual behavior in any manner would be excluded from relationship to the convention,” said Pastor George Mason of Wilshire Baptist Church.
Texas Baptists say they’ve long believed the Bible teaches any sexual behavior outside of marriage between a man and a woman is a sin and that includes same-sex relationships. Church leaders say any church that publicly accepts LGBT members cannot be a part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas put out a statement to address the vote:
"This is a painful time for Texas Baptists. We have deep respect and appreciation for the churches involved. 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."
If the Wilshire Baptist Church withdraws from the convention, the convention will no longer accept their donations or allow them to participate in annual meetings and leadership positions.
The convention is being held in Waco on Monday and Tuesday. Pastor Mason says if it’s recommended that the church be expelled from the convention, it would involve a process that could take up to a year. He says he hopes they can come to a civil resolution.
“All of our religious traditions say the same thing that we're to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We could do with a whole lot more of that right now,” said Pastor Mason.
Two years ago, Wilshire gained some notoriety during Dallas' Ebola crisis, coordinating help and acting as spokespeople for Louise Trouh, a member whose fiancé was Thomas Eric Duncan - the man who died from Ebola after coming to Dallas from Liberia.
"We had the unique opportunity to try and present the message of calling people to faith over fear in a time of real panic,” said Associate Pastor Mark Wingfield.
The long-time member and now associate pastor says he sees parallels in fear-filled times.
"Part of that fear is based on social change that we are experiencing and people trying to find their footing,” Wingfield said.
Although the church has not made an announcement about withdrawing from the from the convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas released a new statement that said in part, “Texas Baptists have a longstanding and often reaffirmed biblical position on human sexuality and marriage. We are saddened by the outcome of Wilshire's vote and their withdrawal from harmonious cooperation with the churches of the convention."