Saturday, December 10, 2005

Los Angeles Times Reports on PSW Separation

Region's American Baptists Seek Vote on Break With Church

Conservative leaders of 300 congregations in the Southwest are ready to bolt over homosexuality.

By Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Writer

In a new move toward a break with their national denomination over homosexuality, conservative leaders of 300 American Baptist congregations in Southern California and elsewhere in the Pacific Southwest called Friday for an advisory vote by local churches next May on whether to leave American Baptist Churches USA.

The regional board said it was calling for a vote because it wanted the "guidance and input" of local congregations. Regardless of the vote's outcome, the board has the authority on its own to pull out of the 1.5-million member national denomination.

After two days of closed-door meetings, the regional board issued an unambiguous statement Friday that it wanted to withdraw.

"The American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest Board of Directors recommends that the region withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA," said a statement posted on the region's website. A telephone call and an e-mail seeking comment from the denomination were not answered.

American Baptist Churches USA is separate from and generally more liberal than the better known Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, which claims 16 million members. In September, regional officials served notice that "deep differences of theological convictions and values" were propelling them toward a possible break because the national church, they said, was not living up to its own 1992 statement that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

For example, some conservative officials are upset that congregations around the country have not been held accountable for blessing same-sex unions. Other congregations say the issue does not touch on their core beliefs and should not divide the church.

Under Baptist governance, however, the 1992 resolution was not binding on local congregations or regions. The national denomination has acknowledged "deep divisions" among American Baptists.

In a move to head off schism, the General Board of American Baptist Churches USA, meeting last month in Green Lake, Wis., approved another statement against homosexuality and same-sex marriage on a 59-45 vote. The statement was inserted into a document titled, "We Are American Baptists." It described American Baptists as those "who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching."

However, the action was not sufficient, according to the Rev. Glenn Layne, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Temple City, who favors secession. "A lot of people really believe it wasn't adopted out of conviction, but out of fear of what we may do," he said.

The decision by the regional board to call for a vote by congregations also came despite unity appeals by the executive ministers of the American Baptist's Rocky Mountains and Maine regions.


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