Watts Street Baptist Church is just that. Baptist. A local church. As such it has always honored and followed a core Baptist principle that the local church is autonomous. For its entire history, our church has charted its own course, seeking always to pursue and clarify its identity as a gospel-following group of Christians. While remaining true to the principle that our identity is not determined by any larger body, our journey as a congregation has always included partnering with or joining larger groups of Christians and Baptists. Those partnerships enhance our church’s identity by allowing us to participate in activities that we cannot do ourselves, and to connect with the larger church. Those partnerships have often included significant areas of agreement and some areas of disagreement.
We are a welcoming and affirming congregation. We believe everyone is welcome to participate fully in all aspects of church life as God’s beloved children. Our partners generally share that vision, but some are not fully inclusive of LGBTQ persons in all aspects of their work.
Watts Street and the Alliance of Baptists.
Watts Street affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists in 1989, two years after it formed in response to political infighting and the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. With approximately 150 congregational partners, the Alliance is the smallest of the denominational groups with which Watts Street affiliates. Watts Street aligns closely with the values and covenants of the Alliance, including “the freedom of the church to shape its own life and mission, call its own leadership, and ordain whom it perceives as gifted for ministry, inclusive of the queer and trans members of God’s family.”
Watts Street directs the highest percentage of its denominational spending to the Alliance in support of the work that promotes their covenants including the freedom of individuals and churches in their study and expression of the Scriptures, as well as their unwavering stance on inclusivity. The Alliance’s action-oriented advocacy creates opportunities and inspiration for Watts Street to engage more fully in our community and the world.
Watts Street and American Baptists.
Watts Street has been an American Baptist Church since 1967. ABCUSA is the most racially and ethnically diverse Baptist denomination. Its home and international missions programs do important work to make the beloved community of God more of a reality. It is a large denomination, with a membership of nearly 5000 churches who comprise a wide spectrum of perspectives on some matters, while sharing common views on the value of working together for missions and national advocacy on fundamental beliefs like the separation of church and state. A fundamental tenet of American Baptist life is that the local church has the autonomy and the responsibility to make its own path. Watts Street values that freedom for the local church to define its own identity.
In the 1990s, the governing body of the denomination adopted a resolution declaring that homosexuality was incompatible with Christian teachings. That statement, which was reaffirmed in 2005, has not led to the adoption of specific policies, but it remains a part of the denomination’s statements of belief. As long as that statement is on the books, it is in direct conflict with WSBC’s values and beliefs. That conflict affects Watt Street’s involvement with ABCUSA.
While this statement remains part of an official theological statement of ABCUSA, Watts Street will limit our financial support to the national organization while maintaining membership in the local arm of the denomination, the American Baptist Churches of the South. We support the removal of the statement from the books. Fortunately, the main domestic program arm of the denomination, the Home Mission Societies, has not adopted that theological statement. In policy and in practice it is fully inclusive of all Christians who seek to work with it. As a result, Watts Street diverts part of our financial support directly to that part of the denomination.
There is an organization, The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, actively working within the denomination to promote full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. Watts Street is a member of and fully supports their work.
Watts Street and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is a global fellowship of Baptist churches formed in 1991. Watts Street has affiliated in some way with the CBF since its founding. The CBF has around 1500 cooperating churches. Their core values, shared by many at Watts Street, are soul freedom, church freedom, Bible freedom, and religious freedom. Our staff and congregants have participated in CBF’s programming and partnerships, including receiving support for theological education, leadership development for theology students, and access to chaplaincy and ministerial resources.
Watts Street has long grieved CBF’s hurtful written policy that excluded the hiring of LGBTQ persons. Over a number of years, WSBC staff members and congregants both led and supported efforts to undo this policy. In February 2018, CBF issued a new hiring policy that removed sexual orientation discrimination. Many at Watts Street celebrated this change but protested the accompanying “implementation guidelines” which indicate that individuals who identify as LGBTQ still will not be considered for employment as CBF Field Personnel or senior staff members.
Watts Street has chosen to proceed in hope. In June 2018, Watts Street sponsored participants to attend the launch of the Affirming Network at the CBF General Assembly in Dallas. This officially CBF-sanctioned group led by CBF-affiliated LGBTQ individuals works toward full inclusion of LGBTQ within CBF. Watts Street also has decided to designate our CBF contribution directly to two areas of CBF that are fully open to all: scholarships for theological education and support for the newly formed Affirming Network.
In all of our partnerships we seek to find a way both to honor and protect the members of our congregation who are not fully embraced in areas of the wider church and world, and also to witness to the expansive nature of God’s abounding love—advocating for the whole of the beloved community we believe God calls us to create. As part of their work, our Denominational Relations Committee will keep us updated on advocacy efforts with our partners and how we can participate in those efforts.