An Inland Empire paper reports today:
Move forces churches to choose
AMERICAN BAPTISTS: Now Inland congregations will decide where they stand on the gay-related split.
10:00 PM PST on Monday, October 30, 2006
By BETTYE WELLS MILLER
The Pacific Southwest Region of American Baptist Churches in the USA will formally withdraw from the denomination on Wednesday because of disagreements over homosexuality and authority of scripture.
What that means for Inland churches may not become clear for months, however, some Inland pastors said.
American Baptist congregations will remain part of the Valley Forge-based denomination until they each submit a letter announcing their withdrawal, said the Rev. Joe DeRoulhac, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Redlands.
Some congregations may be dually aligned with the denomination and Transformation Ministries, the association of churches that replaces the Pacific Southwest Region, he said.
"No one ever anticipated this sort of thing happening, but it has," DeRoulhac said.
Delegates from almost 300 churches in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii voted overwhelmingly in April to support the regional board's proposal to leave the denomination. The board voted in May to sever ties with American Baptist Churches in the USA and announced the formation of Transformational Ministries, an association like-minded American Baptist churches. Bylaws of the new organization were approved at a general meeting in Alhambra earlier this month.
Regional officials advocated splitting from the denomination because, they said, national leaders have not moved to stop the ordination of openly homosexual clergy or to halt the appointment of gays to major positions of responsibility.
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.
DeRoulhac said the Redlands church will not leave the denomination and has notified Transformation Ministries that it will withdraw from that regional body.
About 30 churches have expressed interest in forming a new association that would be affiliated with the denomination and administratively related to the Los Angeles region, he said.
Some Inland churches have not decided what they will do.
First Baptist Church in Banning is considering its options, said the Rev. Tate Crenshaw.
"We probably will have a decision by the first of the year," he said. "We're looking at where we're going as a church."
The congregation supported the region's withdrawal from the denomination, he said.
First Baptist Church in Riverside has decided to leave American Baptist Churches effective Jan. 1, 2007, the Rev. Joe Lutz said.
"I have been an American Baptist all my life," Lutz said. "It seems strange that I will not be one anymore. But my primary allegiance isn't to American Baptist Churches, it's to Jesus Christ and what he calls the church to be."
Lutz said leaving the denomination and affiliating with Transformation Ministries will not produce much change in what the Riverside congregation has been doing.
"We're still a Baptist church, we believe Baptist theology, and we will operate as a Baptist church," he said. "The positive change is, we've made our decision ... we can do the ministry we feel called to do in this community and not be distracted by the debates and conflicts of previous years."
Neither the Rev. Dale V. Salico, executive minister of Transformation Ministries, nor the Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the USA, returned calls seeking comment Monday.
In a previous statement on the denomination's Web site, Medley alluded to numerous splits among Baptist denominations throughout American history.
"Though not uncommon in Baptist life, such actions grieve the heart of God and our Lord Jesus Christ," he wrote.
Reach Bettye Wells Miller at 951-268-9547 or bmiller@PE.com