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American Baptists Clarify Stance on Homosexuality

The executive members of the ABC said they will voluntarily halt the ordination of homosexual individuals as well as the blessing of homosexual unions in a statement delivered to all its churches

The American Baptist Church (ABC) regional executive ministers issued a pastoral letter that called on all its ministers to halt the blessing of same-sex marriages and the ordination of homosexuals, to reaffirm the denomination’s traditional view on the issue and to quell the heated debates between liberal and conservative factions within the church.

"The controversy over homosexuality has consumed our agenda, our discussion time, and our energy; yet the controversy still threatens to break us apart as American Baptists. The prevailing view among American Baptists is that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,”” the executives noted in their statement.

The ABC was at the center of a Baptist-wide controversy surrounding homosexuality and the church earlier this year, when the world’s largest Baptist denomination – the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) – broke off from the world’s largest Baptist organization, the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) over theological disputes. During the SBC’s annual convention, when the decision to break was finalized, an SBC executive pointed to the ABC as one of the “liberal” members of the BWA that allow the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of homosexual unions.

Within the ABC, there is no law set to discipline pastors who decide to ordain homosexual individuals. However, the president of the ABC had written in a letter than the ABC does not support such ordinations.

The executives’ Nov. 20 letter reflected that view:

“Because American Baptist polity allows for respectful dissent, individuals and congregations who hold different viewpoints exist among us,” the statement acknowledged.

Nonetheless, the ABC executive concluded their statement with a call to place a moratorium on gay ordinations and union blessings. The seven point statement also included a call to refrain from “making stereotypical statements about homosexuals” and “participating in homophobic behavior.”

The following is the full text of the ABC executives’ statement, which was penned during the Ministers Council meeting on Nov. 20 in Green Lake, Wisconsin:

"As people called by God and our regions to serve as Regional Executive Ministers, we have a responsibility to provide pastoral guidance, in accordance with the Statement of Purpose of the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., which calls all American Baptists to: 'bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world and to lead persons to Christ; to seek the mind of Christ on moral, spiritual, political, economic, social, denominational and ecumenical matters, and to express to the rest of society on behalf of American Baptists, their convictions as to the mind of Christ in these matters; to guide, unify, and assist American Baptists in their witness in the world, in preparing members for the work of ministry, and in serving both those within and outside the fellowship of Christ; and to promote closer relations among American Baptist churches and groups, within the whole Body of Christ and to promote understanding with other religious bodies.'

"The controversy over homosexuality has consumed our agenda, our discussion time, and our energy; yet the controversy still threatens to break us apart as American Baptists. The prevailing view among American Baptists is that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." Because American Baptist polity allows for respectful dissent, individuals and congregations who hold different viewpoints exist among us.

"This statement is offered out of a sincere desire both to preserve unity within our American Baptist fellowship and to promote faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is imperative that we 'speak the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15) as we understand it, with an abiding sense of humility that we do not have all the answers. We further pledge to continue listening to those who hold differing viewpoints.

"For the sake of our American Baptist ministry and mission and out of a deep desire to move ahead, as Regional Executive Ministers:

1. We will voluntarily refrain from recommending or approving persons who are practicing homosexuals (gay and lesbian persons) for positions and ministries on the regional and national levels of denominational life.

2. We will voluntarily refrain from conducting or participating in marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

3. We will voluntarily refrain from making stereotypical statements about homosexuals, participating in homophobic behavior, making uninformed assumptions about homosexuals, or from participating in public demonstrations advocating on either side of this issue.

4. We will voluntarily refrain from making threats of withdrawal of resources and threats of withdrawal of fellowship.

5. We will pray and work constructively to embrace our unity in Jesus Christ and promote our fidelity to his teachings.

6. We call on all American Baptists to embrace and live out items 1-5 in the same spirit and commitment that we are pledging.

7. We commit ourselves to prayerfully discerning a way through this controversy and plan to report on our progress to the General Secretary and General Board by June 2005."

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