Monday, September 19, 2005


Yes, more of the same. There was also an article from Santa Barbara about the reaction of ABC churches there, but I could not read it with a subscription. If you have access to it, please email it to me at

Monday, Sept. 19, 2005

American Baptist region withdraws, may trigger split in denomination
From wire reports

In what may be the beginnings of a national split over homosexuality, leaders in a regional group of the American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) voted Sept. 8 to begin leaving the denomination. Sixty-five churches in West Virginia will also consider the issue at their October meeting.

Directors of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest (ABCPSW) have initiated the process of disassociating from the Pennsylvania-based denomination by the end of the year. Although the vote was taken Sept. 8, the news was not made public until Sept. 13, when a pastor in the region posted Internet versions of the letters he received announcing the news.

In a Sept. 12 letter to the region's pastors and churches, Dale Salico, the region's executive minister, said the Pacific Southwest board "has determined that the time has come to create distance between the ABCPSW and the ABCUSA so that both may move ahead in the mission God has given them without continued conflict."

In an accompanying letter, Brian Scrivens, president of the region's board of directors, said his board took the action "[b]ecause the deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest and the American Baptist Churches in the USA are understood by the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW as irreconcilable."

The letters were made public by Glenn Layne, pastor of First Baptist Church in Temple City, Calif., on a weblog he runs, called Durable Data.
In a statement Sept. 14, members of the National Executive Council of American Baptist Churches USA said they "deeply regret the action taken by the ABC of the Pacific Southwest, whom we love in Christ...."

"Our denomination has been blessed by the historic commitment by our regions to interdependent dialog and action for mission in the name of Christ," the statement said. "We grieve when partners in ministry move away from that covenantal relationship."

Tensions over the issue of homosexuality have come to a head in recent months in the ABC, which counts 1.5 million members in 5,836 churches. Although the group adopted a resolution opposing homosexual conduct in 1992, many conservatives in the denomination have complained ABC leaders have done little to "enforce" it on the denomination's agencies or congregations.

Regional fellowships are the channel through which local congregations relate to the national body. In recent years, several gay-friendly churches have been expelled from some of those regional bodies. The ABC General Board changed the denomination's rules in 1999 to allow churches to join regions outside of their geographical area if the region is willing to accept them.

As a result, some pro-gay ABC churches have joined with more like-minded regions outside their geographical area. However, some American Baptist conservatives have sought to get rid of that option, thus effectively expelling gay-friendly churches from the ABC.

Several ABC regional bodies issued calls to the national denomination to deal decisively with the issue during its biennial meeting, which took place in July. Some of their leaders said they were left unsatisfied with what they perceived as a lack of sufficient action on the issue.

"I don't think the biennial solved anything, in terms of the future of the denomination," Mike Williams, executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Michigan, said in July.

In addition, the governing board of the ABC Ministers' Council rebuffed an anti-homosexuality measure Aug. 22. It would have required members in good standing to be ministers who believe sexual intimacy is only appropriate in the context of heterosexual marriage.

Most national leaders of the ABC have cited support for traditional Baptist principles of local-church autonomy and the priesthood of every believer, rather than theological support for homosexuality, in opposing such moves.

"We stand at a crossroads," ABC General Secretary Roy Medley told delegates at the biennial meeting, according to the American Baptist News Service. "In our world, the path of radical discipleship -- the path of radical love -- is the road less taken. We dare not choose another. We dare not choose the wrong road ... the road that leads to separation. That choice will certainly unite you with like-minded people but will give you small souls and make you comfortable Christians."

Medley and ABC's national president, Peggy Johnson, met with regional leaders from the Pacific Southwest just prior to their vote to leave the denomination.

"After these meetings the [ABCPSW] board of directors concluded the theological convictions and values of the ABCUSA and the ABCPSW were irreconcilable, and that it was in the best interest of both for the ABCPSW to withdraw from its present standing in the denomination," Scrivens said in his letter.

Ken Pennings, executive director of the pro-gay Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, said Sept. 14 he was "disappointed in the region's professed rationale of 'irreconcilable' convictions and values. As Baptists we have long believed that it is possible in the grace of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit for people to strongly disagree and to embrace one another in love."

Members of 65 American Baptist Churches aligned with a group called "West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth" (WVBBT) will also decide at their convention next month whether or not they will withdraw from the ABCUSA, Jay Wolfe, chairman of the group, said in a news release Sept. 14. Wolfe said it was time for the churches to break with the national denomination since it condoned "flagrant sin in the church."

Wolfe told Baptist Press that the issue of homosexuality has been a problem in the ABCUSA for more than 14 years. He said he and others raised concerns in the early 1990s when a group known as American Baptists Concerned, now the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), were permitted to have an exhibit at the denomination's biennial convention. He and others responded with repeated calls to have the denomination declare that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity, an effort that resulted in the 1992 statement on homosexuality.

But conflict over homosexuality in the ABCUSA did not cease, Wolfe said. He said one church in Ohio and four in California, dis-fellowshipped by conservative churches for affirming homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle, found fellowship with the Rochester/Genesee Region of New York -- a move allowed after the General Board changed its bylaws to allow the congregations to seek fellowship outside of their region.
"We are pleased to know that our Christian brothers and sisters on the Left Coast are the first to do the right thing and stand on God's Word," Wolfe said of the Pacific Southwest Region. But his group is also taking a stand. In a letter to about 460 Baptist churches in West Virginia Sept. 9, WVBBT indicated that denominational leadership had ignored their concerns and refused to deal with the issue of homosexuality.

"Rather than modeling support of the 1992 resolution on homosexuality, the ABC/USA leaders are either voting or appointing individuals to fill important positions within the denomination who are either openly homosexual or members of AWAB churches," the WVBBT letter charged.

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