Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas is moving forward after a vote decided to allow LGBT churchgoers to have full membership rights, including same-sex marriages and holding leadership positions, despite fallout.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas, which includes more than 5,300 churches, severed ties with Wilshire on Tuesday.
The vote at Wilshire, located along Abrams Road in northeast Dallas, was conducted over two Sundays, with nearly 950 people casting a ballot. The final results were 61 percent for and 39 percent against.
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The change may seem swift, but it is not. The discussion began 14 months ago, when the church decided to start studying the issue.
Associate Pastor Mark Wingfield said it was never a question of whether gays and lesbians were welcome at the church.
“They have always been welcome,” Wingfield said. “The question was whether there would be any limitation to leadership roles or other membership rights based upon your sexual orientation or gender identity.”
While a majority of churchgoers decided there would be no limitations, the decision was not easy.
Wingfield said some members left when the discussions began, and others have left now that a decision has been made.
But for the state Baptist convention to cut ties, Wingfield said, was painful. It means the convention will no longer accept Wilshire’s offering money, much of which goes to aid hunger missions around the world.
“It really is bewildering to many members of our congregation to think that this state convention of Baptist would put doctrinal purity on LGBT issues above the basic need of feeding hungry people,” he said.
However, separating from the state convention does not mean Wilshire will lose its Baptist name.
Bob O'Brien was the church's minister of music in 1958. After years away, he returned six years ago as a member.
"There will be changes. Some will leave, many are staying. Not because they agreed with the vote, but because of their commitment to the church," O'Brien said. "I suspect there will be new people, I hope it will be for the right reasons."
Wingfield said there are several other churches in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin that have already made moves to include members of the LGBT community in years past.