Friday, December 23, 2005

Inland Empire Pastors Consider PSW Separation

Note: The Inland Empire region of California (basically the broad area about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, as it makes the transition from the green LA basin area to desert) is home to the largest concentration of churches in PSW.

Inland American Baptist churches differ over split

HOMOSEXUALITY ISSUE: The Pacific Southwest Region leaders call for leaving the national body.

11:44 PM PST on Thursday, December 22, 2005

By BETTYE WELLS MILLER / The Press-Enterprise

Pastors of American Baptist churches in the Inland area are counseling their congregations as the Pacific Southwest Region prepares to vote next spring on whether to split from American Baptist Churches in the USA over the issues of homosexuality and authority of Scripture.

Some pastors said they are saddened by the prospect. Others said differences over how to minister to homosexuals are so deep that separation is the only alternative remaining.

Some congregations of the American Baptist Churches in the USA have gay clergy or have appointed homosexuals to key positions. The Pacific Southwest Region objects and may separate from the national body.

In a Dec. 14 letter regional Executive Minister Dale V. Salico and President Brian Scrivens told churches that the regional board voted Dec. 8 to recommend withdrawing from the denomination and set April 29 as the date for churches to vote on the proposal.

The Pacific Southwest Region includes nearly 300 churches in Southern California, Arizona, southern Nevada and Hawaii. There are more than 30 American Baptist churches in the Inland region.

"Deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest and the American Baptist Churches in the USA have brought increasing strain on the relationship of the churches of the region and the ABCUSA for many years," Salico and Scrivens wrote.
Officials from the region, based in Covina, and denomination headquarters in Valley Forge, Pa., did not return phone calls Thursday.

If the region votes to sever ties, individual churches may keep their affiliation, according to local pastors and the region's Web site.

In Palm Desert, the Rev. Bill Godwin, of University Baptist Church, said his church has not decided how to proceed, but said he is saddened by the recommendation.

"I believe people will look at us, American Baptists, as people who feel we have ... to separate instead of work through our problems," he said by phone.

The Rev. Deane Plew, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Corona, said he favors a split.

"We need accountability," he said by phone. "Sometimes it is stinging. It helps us to hold the line we should be walking."

In a report on the denomination's Web site General Secretary A. Roy Medley said he was disappointed.

"Because schism in the church is grievous to our Lord, we have done -- and will continue to do -- everything we can to maintain the unity of the body of Christ, which is so clearly taught in Scripture," he said.

American Baptist churches are independent and autonomous, responsible for articulating their own doctrine. The denomination has about 1.5 million members in 5,800 churches in the United States.

Plew and others said it is difficult for some people to understand their belief that God loves homosexuals but holds everyone accountable for their actions. The Bible is clear in stating that homosexual behavior is wrong, they said.
"We're not bigoted," Plew said. "We're not against people. We're against things that hurt people. Any practicing gay person is more than welcome to come here. ... There are principles in Scripture the creator has given, and if you violate them you're going to hurt yourself. ... Our whole task is not only preparing people to live life, but preparing for eternity. That's pretty serious."

The Rev. Tate Crenshaw of First Baptist Church in Banning said tension between the region and denomination results from differences over how some churches want to do ministry.

"Our church believes that Jesus loves the homosexual," he said. "It's not an issue of whether churches love or reach out to those in the homosexual lifestyle. The difference is more how do we reach out and help the person in the homosexual lifestyle based on what the Bible teaches."

The Rev. Bob Roberts at The Potter's House in Fontana said his congregation no longer participates in American Baptist mission programs or other ministries because of doctrinal differences.

Crenshaw, a pastor at the Banning church for 18 years, said he hopes the region and denomination can maintain an amicable relationship, particularly when it comes to supporting mission programs.

"When you have disagreement ... obviously there is hurt and struggle," he said. "But we're committed to the living principles of what Jesus taught."

Reach Bettye Wells Miller at (951) 368-9547 or


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