Wilshire Baptist Church voted in November for all members to be treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It sounds so simple, and yet it got you kicked out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Were you surprised by the headlines and the reaction?
I was not surprised after the BGCT made their announcement. I’m not sure it would have been as big a deal locally and in the media if they hadn’t said anything. We voted over two Sundays, the Sundays that sandwiched the national election. We were in the middle of a national decision that in effect said social change was moving too fast. Here we are proposing this change in our church right in the middle of that.
In nearly three decades with Wilshire, have you dealt with anything this difficult?
There were three very significant things that have happened, other than this. The first was the decision to ordain women as deacons and ministers, in 1991. Then we formally decided to leave the Southern Baptist Convention, in 2000. The third thing was in 2014, when our church was in the middle of the Ebola crisis. When Thomas Eric Duncan came over from Liberia, he came to marry a woman who was a member of our church. We were the central nervous system of the whole operation, in terms of caring for her. I was the only one permitted to go and see her and her son and two nephews, who were in quarantine. It was an unbelievable period of about three weeks that we were in the middle of that. Just a media firestorm. But this has been the most challenging moment.
Is it true that the voting lines in your church split with Lakewood residents voting yes and Lake Highlands voting no?
Yes, that’s precisely how it fell. In an email the day after the vote, I said this is what our church has decided. We need to be grateful to God that we have made it through this vote and have a clear decision, but we ought to recognize that there are many in the church that voted no and who are struggling with the outcome of the decision.
Okay, we’re playing flag football. Do I want Roger Staubach or do I want you, a former quarterback at the University of Miami?
I think the answer is Roger. I started some of all three of my sophomore, junior, and senior years. I was not consistently the starting quarterback any of those years. So it’s clear Roger’s résumé is superior.
How did you find your way from Miami to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth?
I visited about five different seminaries around the country. But because I grew up in New York City and didn’t grow up Baptist, I thought that coming to the largest of our Baptist seminaries in the Bible Belt—the largest seminary in the world at that time—seemed like a smart decision.
Satan offers to play a round of golf with you. He gives you three strokes a side. If you win, peace will reign on earth forevermore. If you lose, though, he gets your soul. Do you take the bet?
[laughs] I haven’t seen him play.
Which of your three grandkids is your favorite?
You’ve been the senior pastor at Wilshire for 27 years now. When are you going to give someone else a turn?
Probably before 37. I think I’m in the home stretch. Let’s put it that way.
A decade from now, your congregation is going to look back and say, I can’t believe that was such a big deal. At least I hope that’s the case.
Yes, I hope that’s the case. With each of the steps we’ve taken—leaving the Southern Baptist Convention, ordaining women—eventually other churches do take the matter up. They don’t necessarily follow our lead, but they do what we have done, and I suspect that will be the case on this matter, too.