Texas Baptists hold annual meeting, tackle social movements

The Baptist General Convention of Texas held its annual meeting from Nov. 13 to Nov. 15 at the Waco Convention Center. Olivia Havre | Photographer

By Caitlyn Meisner & Lily Nussbaum | Staff Writers

The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) held its annual meeting in Waco from Nov. 13 to Nov. 15 at the Waco Convention Center and Hilton Hotel.

This year’s theme was “unwavering,” meaning the convention is unwavering in its commitment to sharing Christ in Texas, across the nation and around the globe, as stated on its website.

Over the course of two days, the convention held worship, business sessions, workshops, exhibits and communal meals. Attendees were a mixture of BGCT employees, church messengers and local Waco Baptists interested in the convention.

During business meetings, messengers voted to adopt standing rules and heard the reports of each executive board member. Messengers also listened to the Gen Z/Millennial Task Force, which was established in 2021 to increase the involvement of Gen Z and millennials in churches; its recommendations included conducting listening sessions, launching a statewide initiative and establishing a pastoral residency program.

The convention presented its proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The total Texas budget is $35,459,500. The BGCT has allotted $817,775 for 2023 — a decrease from last year’s $849,600 donation.

Many workshops were standing room only, including “Texas Baptists: Today & Tomorrow,” “A Holistic Biblical Approach to LGBTQ+ Issues and Ministry,” “Post Roe, Where Do We Go?” and “You Don’t Like Women’s Ministry? Me Neither!”

All of these workshops had an overarching theme: relationships. The speakers in each session emphasized the role of relationships between the church and LGBTQ+ people, women in ministry and women who have had abortions or are “abortion-vulnerable.”

Ken Williams, pastor and co-founder of CHANGED Movement Ministries, and David Sanchez, director of ethics and justice at Texas Baptists, led the workshop on LGBTQ+ issues and ministry.

Both men said they had individually struggled with “sexual sin.” Williams said he once identified as a gay man, and Sanchez said he struggled with a pornography addiction.

“The goal is not heterosexuality; the goal is following Jesus,” Williams said. “When we focus so intently on Christ, the nature of the gospel is that we are changed.”

Sanchez said he recommends that people in the church change their approach when talking to LGBTQ+ people. He said instead of telling these people they are wrong, they should be shown the love of Christ and the Bible’s view of marriage.

“We should start talking about God’s design for marriage and about how great it is,” Sanchez said. “In Ephesians 5, the relationship between Christ and the church is portrayed through marriage. These are the discussions we need to be having.”

The conversation pivoted to how to be welcoming but not affirming to the LGBTQ+ community in churches.

“We do have to show that while we still care, that we cannot compromise God’s design or biblical truth,” Sanchez said. “There are a lot of things love is described as in 1 Corinthians 13. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.”

In his workshop entitled “Texas Baptists: Today & Tomorrow,” David Hardage said he is retiring from his role as executive director at the end of this year. He said he has seen a noticeable difference in the state of Texas since he’s started.

“The Texas which into I was born — it is not the Texas I live in today,” Hardage said. “If you were to ask me what has changed, my answer would be ‘everything.'”

Hardage said the future identifying characteristic of Texas Baptists will be the “GC2” commitment, which is the great commandment and the great commission.

“We want to be known as the people who love God and love others,” Hardage said. “We’re in the disciple-making business.”

As he looks to the future of the state and convention, Hardage said he has several concerns.

“My biggest concern going forward is that the gospels are no longer the most important thing,” Hardage said. “I try not to get emotional about it. There are so many other agendas out there. We have allowed it to no longer be the most important thing.”

Reasons for this shift include the rise of social media and the negativity it harbors, Hardage said.

“The biggest challenge for us right now is to stay focused,” Hardage said. “Social media [is] probably the worst thing that’s ever happened. Probably not the worst — there’s the black plague, polio was bad. It’s really a detriment to kingdom work.”

Hardage said he wants the convention to stay committed to the Baptist student ministries present across Texas campuses, especially Baylor. He said there were talks with Baylor to build a new building for the Baptist Student Ministry on campus.

“We’re working on a new special agreement that will honor the historical relationship between the two,” Hardage said. “At the same time, designate Texas Baptist money within BGCT causes in the university.”