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Alliance of Baptists urges Fellowship to reverse stance on gays

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE From the Associated Baptist Press (independent) ... April 24, 2001 Alliance urges Fellowship to reverse stance on gays By Bob
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 25, 2001
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      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
      lesbian relationships.


      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
      save it."


      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
      children."


      "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
      area..


      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.


      Other resolutions:


      -- 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
      2003..


      -- 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.


      -30-



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