Amid the ongoing controversy over gay policies within the American Baptist Churches of USA, the denomination added a new phrase to its self-definition in favor of a stronger stance against homosexuality.
With growing criticism over the denomination's lack of stringency and action against homosexuality, the General Board voted during a Nov. 17-20 meeting to alter a phrase on the "We Are American Baptists" document. The new wording reads that American Baptists are believers "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 teaching."
The vote passed 59-45 with five abstentions.
"We don't see it as a victory so much as a statement by our constituency that the Bible is our authority," said Larry Mason, executive minister of the Indiana-Kentucky region, in a released statement.
While the denomination had a resolution stating that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" since 1992, churches have not been bound to it and no implementing provisions were made.
Congregations criticized the denomination for the lack of discipline on churches with liberal gay policies and in recent months, the Pacific Southwest region of 300 member congregations began the process of separating from the ABCUSA. The regional board will decide in December whether to have its members vote on the separation.
Controversy over the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage has continued within the 1.4 million-member denomination. In August 2005, the Senate of the Ministers Council rejected a requirement that would have banned practicing homosexuals from Senate membership. Previously in 2004, the Regional Executive Ministers Council decided in a 20 to 3 vote not to recommend practicing homosexuals for positions and ministries at the regional and national levels and not to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
"Today we have deep divisions around our understanding of Biblical interpretation, human sinfulness, and the potential of ministering together," said a 2005 statement on mission and ministry that recognized the difference of opinion within the denomination on homosexuality. "We further acknowledge that not all churches consider this issue to be central to mission and ministry."