Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Associated Baptist Press Reports on PSW Action
American Baptist regional group moves ahead with plan to separate
By Hannah Elliott
Published May 2, 2006
POMONA, Calif. (ABP) -- After years of conflict centering mainly on the issue of homosexuality, a large regional body of the American Baptist Churches USA has voted to continue the process of separating itself from the denomination.
In an April 29 meeting at First Baptist Church in Pomona, Calif., the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest voted 1,125-209 to terminate its "Covenant of Relationships" with the ABC-USA.
In American Baptist polity, such covenants are important written agreements that bind the region with the larger ABC-USA group. The board of directors for the Pacific Southwest region will make a final decision on severing itself from the national denomination May 11.
The severance process began Sept. 8, 2005, when the regional directors voted to begin the process of separating themselves from the Pennsylvania-based denomination.
Dale Salico, the region's executive minister, said the Pacific Southwest board "has determined that the time has come to create distance between the ABC-PSW and the ABC-USA so that both may move ahead in the mission God has given them without continued conflict," according to Associated Press.
To approve the recommendation, delegates met in seven locations across the region, using a phone conferencing system to participate in the vote.
After the approval, the group's board of directors said in a written release the division came because of "deep differences of theological convictions and values" that became "irreconcilable" in recent months. Regional president Brian Scrivens could not be reached for comment May 2.
Most of the "irreconcilable" differences centered around the way the denomination, with approximately 1.5 million members in more than 5,800 churches, relates to gay-friendly churches. Even though American Baptist leaders approved a 1992 resolution opposing homosexual conduct, conservatives maintained the wording and the enforcement of the motion on denominational agencies and personnel were not strong enough.
An August 2005 vote by the ABC-USA Ministers Council particularly riled conservatives in the denomination. In it, the ministers defeated a proposed amendment that would have required members in good standing to be ministers who believe sexual intimacy is only appropriate in the context of heterosexual marriage."
Progressive and centrist American Baptists, meanwhile, have tried to defend what they see as traditional Baptist stances on congregational autonomy and individual conscience in opposing the ouster of pro-gay churches and leaders.
The decision to leave was made without discussion by slightly more than 50 percent of the eligible churches participating in the vote. American Baptist leaders expressed a desire to maintain a relationship with the Pacific Southwest body.
"It is with profound sorrow that we have come to this point of separation," Roy Medley, general secretary of ABC-USA, said in a news release. "We give our blessing to the region, if it chooses…to leave, that they may do God's work as they feel led."
According to American Baptist reports, even if the region's board of directors decides to leave the Covenant of Relationships, not all Pacific Southwest churches will leave the denomination. Churches that decide to stay with the national group will form an association of American Baptist churches to be led by Samuel Chetti, currently executive minister of the Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society.