American Baptist Church in Michigan Ousted for Openly Affirming Gays
- American Baptist church ousted for openly affirming gays
By Hannah Elliott
Associated Baptist Press
Published September 1, 2006
FLINT, Mich. (ABP) -- On Aug. 29, Woodside Church became the first
American Baptist congregation in Michigan to be disaffiliated by its
local "sister churches" because of its stance on homosexuality.
The North Area Baptist Association, a 10-county group of Baptist
congregations belonging to the American Baptist Churches-USA, voted
18-3 to break ties with the church because of its acceptance of gays.
According to church leaders, Woodside will remain a Baptist
congregation, although the 275-member church might have to join with a
Baptist association in a different state.
"We believe Jesus, as we know him and understand him through the
gospels, teaches us to love everyone just as they are without
judgment," Woodside pastor Deborah Kohler said in the story. "There is
nothing they can do to keep us from being Baptists. We can find other
churches to connect with."
The showdown over homosexuality has been brewing for several months.
In May, Woodside Church decided to join the Association of Welcoming
and Affirming Baptists, a pro-gay organization. That act made some of
the convention's more conservative churches begin the process of
The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists has 55 member
congregations nationwide. Member congregations publicly endorse all
church members "without regard to sexual orientation or gender
identity, and who have joined together to advocate for the full
inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons within
Baptist communities of faith," according to the group's website.
Ken Pennings, the executive director of the group, said that by
approving the vote to disassociate, the North Area Baptist Association
has "severed itself from one of its most vital, healthy, energetic,
"This [decision] tells me volumes about the North Area Association,r"
he told Associated Baptist Press via email. "One only need visit
Woodside Church on a Sunday morning to experience Woodside's
extravagant welcome of all people, openness to the movement of the
Holy Spirit, commitment to religious liberty, peace and justice, depth
of spirituality, emphasis on intergenerational communication and
development, and involvement in community affairs."
The vote came as no surprise to Woodside Church members, according to
The Flint Journal. The church has a well-known standard of affirmation
with no regard to sexual orientation.
An August executive committee letter to the regional board reminded
members that, in accordance with American Baptist bylaws, Woodside
Church has the right to affiliate with another American Baptist group
in a different area or region.
Michael Williams, the executive minister of American Baptist churches
in Michigan, told ABP the executive board is trying to find middle
ground in the dispute.
"What all of this is highlighting for us is the tension that Baptists
often have; it's the tension between local church autonomy and
interdependence," he said. "For us in Michigan, that's the profound
In a statement on the church's web site, Pastor Kohler said Woodside
has always been a unique congregation on the "cutting edge of
social-justice issues," and that same focus continues to play a major
role in its identity.
The church is the city's oldest Baptist church, according to the
Journal. It also affiliates with the United Church of Christ.
American Baptist Churches-USA have roughly 1.5 million members in the