Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, has voted to grant LGBT members full membership to the church. The resolution passed by a 61 percent majority in a final vote conducted Sunday.
"The motion to affirm that the church bylaws recognize a single class of membership, which would allow for all members to be treated equally, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, with respect to leadership, ordination, baby dedications and marriage, PASSED by a 61% favorable vote," Senior Pastor George Mason said of the congregational vote.
The vote concluded 14 months of conversation within the church on how to interpret its bylaws in regards to LGBT membership. Of the 948 ballots cast, 577 voted in favor, 367 were against it, and four people abstained.
The Baptist General Convention of Texas released a statement to News 8 in response to the affirmative vote, calling it a "painful time" for the religion:
“This is a painful time for Texas Baptists. We have deep respect and appreciation for the churches involved. While Texas Baptists are loving, respectful and welcoming to all people, we have a longstanding and often reaffirmed biblical position on human sexuality. As in the past, when a church chooses a position outside of the BGCT position, that church effectively withdraws from harmonious cooperation. The BGCT values the autonomy of the local church and the harmony which is vital to the Convention’s purpose of fostering cooperative missions and ministries.”
Mason told News 8 before the votes were counted that the Baptist General Convention has warned it could expel the church from the Texas Baptist convention if the resolution passes.
"Our church knows that there are consequences of our decision," Mason said. "We think there will be many positive consequences for being able to say to the LGBT community that they are welcome here fully, in Christ."
The resolution on the church's website reads:
"...would permit all members to participate in congregational life on the same basis as any other church member regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This affirms the ability of the church’s committees and lay and staff governance structures to consider all members for leadership, ordination, baby dedication and marriage based upon individual merit and the discernment of those duly elected to governance positions."
"This is not an easy decision. I mean, this is cutting to the core of very strong beliefs that people have on both sides," said Casey Boland. She has been a member of the Wilshire Baptist Church for 10 years.
"The reasons that have been used for why people should vote ‘no' are the same reasons that were used for - why divorced people should not be allowed to be in the church, why blacks and whites should not be allowed to be married, why women should not be pastors. It just, in my view, rings hallow.” said Boland.
But many in the church are opposed to the resolution and planned to vote against the change. Some members, who wished not to go on camera, said much of it is based on what they have been taught.
Pastor Mason said, "Everyone who disagrees with us does not hate gay people. They just have a different way of understanding what are the boundaries that a church ought to exercise in its love and acceptance of all people."
The church, with some 1,600 active members, took a final vote on the issue Sunday morning.
This story will continue to be updated.