Alliance of Baptists urges Fellowship to reverse stance on gays
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
From the Associated Baptist Press (independent)
April 24, 2001
Alliance urges Fellowship to reverse stance on gays
By Bob Allen
DECATUR, Ga. (ABP) -- The Alliance of Baptists is asking a sister
Southern Baptist Convention splinter group, the Cooperative Baptist
Fellowship, to withdraw a recent statement on homosexuality.
Meeting at a church under fire for its pro-gay stance, the
Washington-based Alliance, during its April 20-22 annual convocation,
urged the CBF's Coordinating Council to rescind a new "organizational
value" that forbids direct funding of groups that condone gay and
The value statement, to be used in developing the Fellowship's annual
budget and in hiring of staff and missionaries, primarily affects
divinity schools linked to universities that include sexual
orientation in their open-admissions policies. Under the new rule,
those schools aren't eligible for institutional support from the
Atlanta-based Fellowship, but students who attend them may still
qualify for scholarships.
The Alliance vote, however, stemmed from confusion about whether the
new policy also applies to exhibitors at this summer's CBF General
Assembly. A letter sent by a CBF representative to prospective
exhibitors said they must "enhance and affirm the mission and shared
commitments" of the Fellowship. Background documents included the
value statement on homosexuality.
That prompted the Alliance's board of directors to decree the group
should "have no official presence" at the June CBF meeting in
Atlanta, in order to remain consistent with its "welcoming and
affirming" stance toward gays and lesbians..
During a report of that action, however, Alliance member Mahan Siler
of Franklinton, N.C., persuaded a majority of convocation
participants to instead approve a statement expressing grief over the
new CBF statement. Siler's substitute motion further urged the
Fellowship's Coordinating Council "to rescind this action and to
develop ways to continue discernment of the church's response to
homosexual persons in our day."
Speakers debating the motion asked Alliance Executive Director Stan
Hastey to seek clarification of the CBF policy before deciding
whether to exhibit at this year's General Assembly. Some, including
Richard Groves of Winston-Salem, N.C., who introduced the original
motion to Alliance directors, argued that having a presence at the
General Assembly would imply that the Alliance agrees with the
Fellowship's homosexuality statement.
"It's not a matter of wanting to distance ourselves [from the CBF],"
Groves said. "I'm going to the CBF. A lot of us will. It's a matter
of clarifying where we stand on this particular issue."
Others said the Alliance should ask specifically if the group is
still welcome in the CBF exhibit hall in light of the new value
statement. "I would rather be thrown out than to walk out," said Alan
Neely of Raleigh, N.C.
Ken Sehested, executive director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of
North America, another gay-friendly organization, said CBF leaders
took three months before finally granting his request to exhibit at
the General Assembly. He said the Peace Fellowship is free to display
any of its materials, including a controversial resource booklet for
promoting dialogue about sexual orientation in churches.
"We are not censored in any way," Sehested said.
Sehested said he believes the time for conversation within the CBF
over homosexuality "is riper than ever before" and urged the Alliance
against taking any steps that might cut off such discussion.
CBF moderator Donna Forrestor of Greenville, S.C., was present during
the lengthy discussion but did not speak.
The Alliance formed in 1986 around principles that were at issue in
the middle of a decade-long takeover of the Southern Baptist
Convention by fundamentalists. The Alliance, which has since evolved
into a haven for the denomination's most liberal wing, is today one
of the few religious bodies in the United States with a stated
position that is welcoming and affirming of gays.
The 10-year-old CBF, a larger and more centrist SBC-splinter group
that emphasizes missions and church programs, describes its new
stance on homosexuality as "welcoming but not affirming." Fellowship
leaders say the organization doesn't exclude gays, but won't use
mission gifts to fund causes that might offend contributing churches.
Both groups dissent from the 16 million-member Southern Baptist
Convention, which has taken a hard line against homosexuality.
Following suit with the national convention, the Georgia Baptist
Convention two years ago withdrew fellowship from two Atlanta-area
churches over the issue.
The Atlanta Baptist Association, meanwhile, recently refused to
remove the same two churches, citing autonomy of the local church.
That action prompted defunding of the association by both state and
SBC entities and talk of a formal split within the association.
One of those churches, Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., was
host for this year's Alliance meeting. During an announcement from
the pulpit, Oakhurst Pastor Lanny Peters directed a comment to Tim
Shirley, pastor of Atlanta's Virginia-Highland Baptist Church, the
other targeted pro-gay congregation. "Tim, we have been together so
many times the last two years, but we have never [before] been
applauded," he quipped.
That reference was to the first of eight times the convocation
audience interrupted Hastey's annual "State of the Alliance" address
with applause. Hastey commended the two churches, both of which are
Alliance members, "for the substance of the positions you have taken"
and "the exemplary way in which you have borne witness to the truth."
"You are doing the work of the gospel," Hastey said, "and we give
thanks to God for you."
Hastey said most of the 110-church Alliance's "admittedly modest
growth" in recent years is among churches that have been ostracized
over homosexuality. He recalled that several years ago, while
deliberating whether to take sides on the issue, Alliance leaders
felt they might be putting the organization's "life on the line."
"Maybe we were," he said. "Yet in the ongoing process of being such a
welcoming body, we are coming to learn first-hand the truth of the
gospel paradox that one finds life by losing it, not by trying to
In the same report, Hastey also called on churches in the Alliance,
which from the beginning has supported the ordination of women, to be
more intentional about hiring female ministers. "To put the matter
bluntly, when it comes to the rightful role of women as pastors, the
larger onus is on us," he said. "Why? Simply because, unlike the
Southern Baptist overlords, we claim to be for women."
"Yet with rare exceptions," he continued, "even the most progressive
congregations in the Alliance are not calling women as pastors. So
women continue to hear the tinny sound of the all-too-common refrain:
'Our church is not ready yet.'"
Alliance president Paula Clayton-Dempsey echoed that theme in her
sermon to the convocation. In a message titled "What Women Want,"
Clayton-Dempsey, a college chaplain from Mars Hill, N.C., referred to
the male-written Gospel of Matthew's numbering of a crowd fed
miraculously by Jesus at 5,000, "not counting the women and
"Women want to be counted," Clayton-Dempsey said. Women still are
"not counted," she said, in a world where they are potential victims
of spousal and sexual abuse and girls are four times as likely as
boys to be malnourished. In America, she continued, women earn 75
percent as much as men for the same work and comprise 2 percent of
top management. Women also aren't counted, she said, when they are
called by God to preach but can't find a pulpit that welcomes them..
She added that the view that women don't count is now "officially
written" in the Southern Baptist Convention's recently revised
confessional statement, the "Baptist Faith and Message."
In other business, a recommendation to change the organization's name
to Alliance of Baptists in the U.S.A. failed to receive a majority
vote. Hastey said the proposal would end confusion both at home and
abroad between the organization and the Baptist World Alliance, a
worldwide fellowship of Baptist unions also based in the Washington
Opponents to the change, however, said it sounded too nationalistic
and might discourage churches from Canada from affiliating with the
Alliance of Baptists..
The convocation also re-elected Clayton-Dempsey, a chaplain at Mars
Hill College, to a second one-year term as president.
-- Affirmed intention to develop an ecumenical partnership with the
United Church of Christ. Alliance representatives will join a
dialogue team that will develop a covenant for formal adoption in
-- Asked President George W. Bush to review U.S. policy on Cuba.
-- Urged debt relief and greater effort to fight AIDS in Zimbabwe.
-- Stated solidarity with Southern and American Baptist churches that
"have been ostracized, disfellowshipped or excluded" for welcoming
members regardless of sexual orientation.
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