Monday, November 07, 2005
Background to the Indiana-Kentucky Proposal
As it is titled, this document gives a rather full history of how we got where we are in the impasse. It is found at http://www.abc-indiana.org/background%20information%20homosexuality.htm and discusses the issue from an Indiana-Kentucky perspective. The General Board will meet Nov. 17-20, 2005 and will receive a second reading of the IN-KY petition and vote.
Background Information And Update On The Issue Of Homosexuality And
The American Baptist Churches USA
May 16, 2005
It is the purpose of this paper to answer questions that have been asked, address what the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky’s response has been to the November 17, 2004, letter to our local congregations and provide you with updates as to what could happen at the June 27-30, 2005 General Board meeting in Denver, Colorado. Needless to say, to do this will take some length. Please don’t let that stop you from reading through this document.
Background—homosexuality and the ABC
The following information is largely the result of work by Rev. Jim Oldham of the Cleveland Baptist Association, who researched the history and gave permission for others to utilize the fruits of his hard work. The following is an attempt to provide you with a concise yet comprehensive overview of the history of how the American Baptist Churches have dealt with the issue of homosexuality, and to highlight some of the current statements and proposals that are circulating within the denomination related to this issue.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as American society became more tolerant and accepting of homosexual behavior, lifestyle, and relationships, a small group of folks began advocating for greater recognition of sexual minorities within the ABC/USA. These sexual minorities are now known as lgbt – lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and trans-gendered persons. The movement was formally organized and supported by a group known as American Baptist Concerned. Almost immediately an opposing counter-movement began within the ABC/USA by groups such as the American Baptist Evangelicals to oppose such a development. Homosexuality has been a growing issue within the denomination ever since.
Most American Baptists would agree that a literal reading of various biblical texts would appear to prohibit and condemn homosexual activity. Passages which most readily come to mind are Genesis 2:18-25 (the creation of woman and the institution of marriage); Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 (the Holiness Code); Romans 1:26-32, I Corinthians 6:9, and I Timothy 1:10 (Pauline condemnation). Those holding to a more open view generally seek to limit the broad application of these texts by various linguistic and historical analyses, and point to more generic biblical passages and the example of Jesus respecting human equality and love for all people as controlling in seeking biblical insight on the issue of homosexuality. Over time those on each side of this issue have developed their own biblical and theological base. In addition, some have argued that this issue is more about power and polity than about the Bible and theology. Those who believe that soul liberty and local autonomy are central to the identity of Baptist, or at least American Baptists, generally are uncomfortable with any denominational "confessional" or "creedal" statements about homosexuality or any other issue of what they perceive as faith and practice.
For many years, although the issue of homosexuality was argued and debated in various ways at ABC Biennial Meetings, as well as in other venues, the ABC/USA itself had no formal position on this issue. It was largely discussed and dealt with at the local church and regional level.
In October of 1980 the Indiana Baptist Convention (ABC of Indiana and Kentucky), at a regular meeting of delegates at an Annual Meeting at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, approved a resolution entitled "The Homosexual Lifestyle." This resolution opposed homosexuality stating that it was seen as "incompatible with the Bible and the Christian faith." The resolution also stated that "we oppose any organizational or fiscal affiliation with any church or para-church group which affirms or in any way promotes or perpetuates the homosexual lifestyle," and that "we oppose the ordination to the American Baptist Ministry of self-confessed practicing homosexuals." For American Baptist of this region that was meant to put this issue to rest.
In 1984, the General Board passed a Policy Statement on Family Life that reads in part:
"We affirm that God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long, one flesh union of a woman and a man, who in response to God’s call leave father and mother and cleave to one another. We affirm God’s blessing and active presence in marriage relationships so entered in response to God’s call."
This statement was strongly supported by a vote of 140 for and 24 against, with 4 abstentions. There is no way to know if the same clear support for this Policy Statement would be present today, it does remain the official policy of the ABC/USA.
In 1992, at the initiation of the West Virginia Baptist Convention, a formal Resolution on Homosexuality was adopted by the ABC/USA General Board.
This statement reads:
"We affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."
As with all ABC policy statements and resolutions, the West Virginia Resolution is binding only on the ABC/USA as entity, its officers, staff, and practices, and regions and local churches are free to honor, publicize, ignore, or disregard them as they choose.
As you might expect, the adoption of the West Virginia Resolution, and others that were brought forward later, did not end the division and agitation within the ABC/USA around the issue of homosexuality. In 1995, the General Board appointed a "broadly representative" 12 person Commission on Denominational Unity. It met for three years and held numerous meetings and hearings seeking to determine how the divide on this issue could be bridged in order to restore a greater sense of unity to the denomination. Among its recommendations that are adopted by the General Board in June of 1998 were the following:
Maintaining both the Resolution on Homosexuality and the Resolution Calling for Dialogue on Issues of Human Sexuality as official statement of the denomination. (The latter is a Policy Statement approved by the General Board in 1993, calling the denomination to "consider prayerfully the mind of Christ regarding human sexuality," and asking for American Baptists to continue dialogue on the issue of human sexuality while we "Pray fervently that as we honestly address these concerns we may seek unity and avoid divisiveness as we grow in our common mission for Jesus Christ."
Adopting and circulating the confessional statement "We Are American Baptists" as the common expression of the Christian faith as held by American Baptists.
Recommending the "Common Ground Process for Church Groups Facing Contentious Issues" as a model for considering potentially divisive issues."
In the early 1990’s a new organization known as AWAB – The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists – was created to advocate for the full inclusion of lgbt persons into the life and leadership of Baptist churches and organizations at all levels. It has grown from an original number of about 30 churches to about 50 today (not all of which are ABC/USA affiliated), along with persons who have obtained individual membership in the organization. During this time two regions, the ABC of the West and ABC of Ohio, disfellowshipped, or removed from their membership, five congregations that had membership in AWAB. These actions were appealed to the ABC General Board under Standing Rule 5 as it existed in 1999. The General Board sustained the removal of four of the churches (all from the ABC of the West), but reversed the removal of the disfellowshipped congregation from Granville, Ohio, with respect to their membership in the ABC/USA. The primary reason appeared to have more to do with two factors; polity issues related to local church autonomy and the right of regions to be gatekeepers for the denomination. In this case the issue of homosexuality was, at least for the most part, secondary. As you can imagine this created considerable confusion around this issue and eventually resulted in a call by several regions for adjudication. Adjudication is a complex provision of the ABC Standing Rules which allows one covenant partner (a region or national board) to formally dispute any action taken by another covenant partner, with the resolution determined by the action of an arbitrator appointed by the ABC/USA General Secretary.
After months of discussion on this matter at various leadership levels in the denomination, a compromise was reached and agreed upon. This resulted in a new Standing Rule 5 which was adopted by the General Board in 2002. This followed the approval of the new Common Criteria for Cooperating Churches by a required ¾ approval of regions. The ABC of Indiana and Kentucky approved the Standing Rules changes. The compromise resulted in the withdrawal of the requests for adjudication. Essentially the compromise included these elements: (1) Each region is free to enforce its own criteria for membership for its own churches within the broad parameters of the Common Criteria for Cooperating Churches; (2) The Common Criteria for Cooperating Churches was modified to include acknowledgement of the document "We Are American Baptists" as one of the five criteria for church membership in the ABC/USA; (3) Any church anywhere in the country which is disfellowshipped or refused admittance to its own geographical region can apply for membership in any other ABC region and, if admitted, it is a member church of the ABC/USA through that region. (This action was required first to pass through the General Executive Council by a ¾ vote of their members. The ABC of Indiana and Kentucky, through its executive minister, did not vote for these changes in the Common Criteria, primarily because of element 3.) A number of the churches removed from membership by their own regions (including the four congregations in California and one in Ohio) subsequently applied to and were accepted by non-geographically contiguous ABC regions. In most cases this preceded without great controversy, however in two cases the application for membership by these churches created division within the regions in which they sought membership.
In 2003 the Bedford Association in West Central Indiana, following what they understood to be in alignment with the region’s resolution regarding "The Homosexual Lifestyle," disfellowshipped the First Baptist/UCC congregation in Bloomington, Indiana because that congregation ordained a self-confessed homosexual. After being rejected for membership into the ABC of Greater Indianapolis, the disfellowshipped congregation applied to and was accepted by the ABC of Rochester/Genesee Region.
During the same period, the issue of homosexuality caused serious division within the ABC of the Northwest. An attempt to change the By-Laws of that region to exclude any Welcoming and Affirming member church from membership in the region failed by a narrow margin. Rather than see this continue as a divisive issue within the region, some 30 churches (mostly around the Seattle, WA area) voluntarily agreed to withdraw from the ABC of the Northwest and form a new ABC region, now known as the Evergreen Baptist Association.
This past year (2004) a number of new elements on this issue unfolded:
Within the ABC Ministers Council a Senator representing the ABC of Massachusetts Ministers Council entered into a formal civil marriage (under the new laws of the State of Massachusetts) with her lesbian partner. A number of members of the Minister Council Senate, including some local Councils by formal action, objected to her continued seating as a Senator. The current Ministers Council By-Laws do not provide any mechanism for excluding a duly elected Senator representing a local Council. A proposed By-Law change has been introduced to allow such exclusion based on failure to adhere to the ABC Policy Statement on Family Life and the ABC Resolution on Homosexuality. During the 2004-2005 year this proposed change is being considered in local Councils, in many through a process known as "Jerusalem Councils," with a vote on the proposed By-Law change scheduled for the next Ministers Council Senate meeting in August 2005. You can receive more information about this by going to the ABC web site www.abc-usa.org and click on ABC Ministers Council.
The Indiana/Kentucky and Greater Indianapolis Ministers Council held one of the first Jerusalem Councils at Franklin College on February 12th of this year. The meeting was attended by approximately 30 persons who expressed opinions on both sides of the homosexual issue. Ministers Council President, Dr. Shawn Zambrows, announced at a recent Ministers Council Retreat, that additional meetings were being planned for later on in the year. The format for these meetings have not yet been determined. Our Ministers Council have two Senators who will be voting on the By-Law changes in August; Rev. Rebecca May, pastor at Elizaville Baptist Church, and Rev. Harris Long, pastor at Milan First Baptist Church.
The ABC regions of Indiana and Kentucky and West Virginia have formally submitted changes to the document "We Are American Baptists" and to the wording of the ABC Standing Rules. These changes would, in effect, void the Compromise of 2002, and provide specific basis for the exclusion of Welcoming and Affirming congregations by ABC regions. They would also limit a region’s ability to receive churches as members of the ABC/USA to only those churches located within its own geographical boundaries, except that a church might be received into a geographically contiguous region, but only with the permission of the region in which the church is located. In order to insure that this proposal is formally presented to the ABC General Board, it must be affirmed by at least 200 churches located in a minimum of five ABC regions.
Indiana-Kentucky Recent Actions
As most of you already know, in February of 2004, the Shelburn First Baptist Church was granted time to speak to the Region’s Executive Committee. They shared their position on the issue of homosexuality at the national level of our denomination and appealed to the region board for assistance in moving this issue forward to require the ABC/USA to take a clear stand. After much discussion the Executive Committee appointed a task force to study the issue and bring recommendations back to the September 2004 Executive Committee meeting. The task force included two General Board members elected as representatives from this region.
A recommendation was received at the September 2004 Executive Committee meeting, and after a time of prayer and discussion, was voted to recommend approval of the task force’s recommendation to the Region Board in November of 2004. The recommendations were eventually approved by the Region Board on November 13, 2004, and directed "the Executive Minister to pursue amending the Standing Rules of the ABC/USA." On November 17, 2004 letter explaining the Region Board’s action was sent to each local covenanting congregation in the ABC/IN-KY asking them to review the Board’s recommendations and if the church agreed, to send a letter of support for the recommendations to the region office.
At the November meeting of the Regional Executive Minister’s Council at Green Lake, WI, your executive minister explained the action taken by the Region Board and were told the executive minister that a letter would be sent to them asking them to present the recommendations in their regions. That was done on December 1, 2004.
At this time over 500 letters of support have been received from congregations in fourteen ABC regions. As a result the General Board Executive Committee has been notified and the recommendations will be on the agenda at the June 2005 General Board meeting in Denver, Colorado.
Through conversation with the ABC/USA’s general council we have been assured that all of the recommendations are possible, though not at the June meeting of the General Board. The first step is for the General Board to either accept or reject the "report," as it is now called, and then to decide how to act upon the recommendations. Because there is no assurance as to the action of the General Board in June, five meetings have been scheduled after the ABC/USA Biennial to insure you have all the information possible and can ask any questions that you may have.
The Regional Executive Minister’s Council of the ABC/USA, at its meeting on November 20, 2004, issued a Pastoral Letter on the subject of homosexuality. The concept of the letter was that "the controversy over homosexuality has consumed our agenda, our discussion time, and our energy; yet the controversy still threatens to break us apart . . . (and) The prevailing view among American Baptists is that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." Key to many who voted to approve the letter was item 7 of the letter, which was that "We commit ourselves to prayerfully discerning a way through this controversy and plan to report on our progress to the General Secretary and the General Board by June 2005." Almost immediately this statement came under attack from persons on both sides of the issue.
The Executive Minister of the Rochester/Genesee region called a meeting in February "to discuss strategies for preserving the American Baptist Churches from conservative hijacking." That meeting was held and persons from several regions, including the ABC of Indiana and Kentucky, attended.
The Regional Executive Ministers Council met in April of this year, supposedly with the primary purpose of developing recommendations to the General Secretary and General Board on settling the issue of homosexuality.
Unfortunately that did not happen. The time was spent being trained in a "new" process for discernment and virtually no time was given to the issue many thought was the purpose of the meeting. The work of the meeting carried over into the General Executive Council (all region executives plus several staff members from International Ministries, National Ministries, Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, Office of the General Secretary and representatives from a number of associated organizations). The meeting continued with great anxiety and passion, and ended with little more than a series of tasks to be assigned and worked through at future meetings. Though motions were brought to the floor that many felt would settle the homosexual issue within the denomination, they did not pass with a majority vote. The action was to maintain the current status and was exemplified through the approval of the statement, "The GEC agrees to present to its constituencies the realities of the Covenant of Relationships and in the context of the Bylaws and Rules of Procedures and the document "Autonomy and Interdependence." Therefore, the GEC affirms the right and responsibility of every Agency, Region, and Board to exercise its best wisdom and judgment in determining the most faithful way to honor the resolutions in their contexts."
There were six dissenting votes to this motion, all from regional executives who felt this was not a step forward, rather a giving of permission for everyone (including our national board and organizations) to ignore any Policy Statement or Resolution within the ABC/USA. Your executive minister voted against this motion because such action effectively negates the action taken by both region representatives to the ABC/USA General Board and local church delegates who attend ABC/USA Biennials.
It is the opinion of many who hold beliefs on all sides of the homosexual issue that this issue will not be settled without major breaks in the denomination. Clearly passions have reached the point where a number of people, on all sides of this issue, are seriously discussing the when and how of a formal division of the ABC/USA. Please continue to pray for your General Board Representatives, the denomination and God’s leading for all of us. [Emphasis added]