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‘Our Causes Choose Us’: Inside A Dallas Church's Debate On LGBT Inclusiveness

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A Baptist church in Dallas that's been in the national spotlight the last few years voted this week to grant full membership to folks in the LGBT community. And that effectively severs ties between Wilshire Baptist Church and the the Baptist General Convention of Texas, one of the governing bodies for Southern Baptists in the state.

It’s the latest in an ongoing debate among churches about LGBT inclusiveness.

Wilshire Baptist associate pastor Mark Wingfield says it’s something all churches will confront in the next five years.

Interview Highlights: Mark Wingfield…

...On membership before this week’s vote:

“We’ve always had gay and lesbian members of our congregation, we just had sort of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, and a lot of the folks who’ve been with us have chosen to be with us because they don’t want that kind of attention. At the same time, we’ve had these unspoken limitations that relate to leadership particularly.

Now that we have the ability to have same-sex marriage in the United States, that put a new wrinkle on things as well and our pastoral staff in particular needed some guidance from the congregation on what we were going to allow.”

…On the church debate about gay marriage:

“I think this is one of the great religion stories of our time. There is not a single church in America that will not have to deal with this issue within the next five years, and any church that thinks they won’t have to deal with are living in a bubble. Now, some churches will choose to deal with it by choosing not to deal with it. But that’s still a choice.

I would love to sit down with anyone and have a theological conversation about homosexuality and marriage. We hear a lot of talk thrown around today on ‘biblical marriage’ and I want to stop people and say, ‘what do you mean by biblical marriage? Do you want to talk about Old Testament characters who had multiple spouses? Do you want to talk about other stories in the New Testament?’ What do you mean by ‘biblical marriage’? Can we define our terms please? Which is just like people who blindly throw around ‘homosexual lifestyle.’ Well, let’s talk about the heterosexual lifestyle; there’s some problems there too.”

…On losing members after the vote:

“We lost members the day we announced we were going to study [homosexuality]. We lost members along the way who simply could not abide us having the conversation. We’re going to lose other members now that a decision has been made.”

…On whether Wilshire Baptist set out to be a progressive church in the face of Ebola, transgender issues and gay marriage:

“One of the things that I’ve learned lately is sometimes we don’t get to choose our causes, our causes choose us. That’s certainly been the case through all these things.” 

Mark Wingfield is an associate pastor at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and KERANews.org. She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter is KERA's vice president of news. He oversees news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News has earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.