Division over Homosexuality Threatens American Baptist Ranks
- Division over Homosexuality Threatens American Baptist Ranks
By Robert Marus
Associated Baptist Press
July 7, 2005
DENVER (ABP) -- American Baptists are a step closer to a
long-anticipated showdown over homosexuality and diversity after
completing their biennial meeting July 4.
The denomination's General Board, meeting prior to the larger
convocation in Denver, accepted the first reading of a petition from
one of the denomination's regional groups that calls for amendments to
documents designed to more clearly state American Baptists' opposition
At least three regional groups of ABC churches have threatened to
withhold contributions to the national denomination or leave
altogether if their concerns over homosexuality were not addressed by
the end of the biennial, which took place July 1-4. Conservative
leaders, such as the American Baptist Evangelicals, were not
immediately available for comment after the meeting.
Regional fellowships are the channel through which local churches
relate to the national body, which counts 1.5 million members in 5,836
churches. In recent years, several gay-friendly churches have been
expelled from those regional bodies. The ABC General Board changed the
denomination's rules in 1999 to allow churches to join regions outside
of their geographical area if the region is willing to accept them.
As a result, many pro-gay ABC churches have joined more progressive
regional associations -- such as several in the Northeast.
The Indiana-Kentucky region initiated the petition to change those
rules back, as well as to amend a denominational identity statement to
read that American Baptists are a people "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
The petition notes the ABC General Board's 1992 approval of a
resolution that declares homosexual practice "incompatible with
biblical teaching" but says that subsequent actions by denominational
leaders have not sent as clear an anti-homosexuality message.
The denomination has presented "an inconsistent and confusing message
to the world about what American Baptists profess to believe and what
is actually practiced," the petition reads.
It and another petition expressing concern over the unity in the
denomination will receive a second reading at the November meeting of
the General Board. If passed, it effectively would create a mechanism
for expelling many gay-friendly churches from the ABC.
During his address to about 2,000 delegates to the biennial July 1,
ABC General Secretary Roy Medley pleaded for unity in the ethnically,
geographically and theologically diverse denomination.
"We stand at a crossroads," he said, according to the American Baptist
News Service. "In our world, the path of radical discipleship -- the
path of radical love -- is the road less taken. We dare not choose
another. We dare not choose the wrong road ... the road that leads to
separation. That choice will certainly unite you with like-minded
people, but will give you small souls, and make you comfortable