American Baptists Split Over Homosexuality, Theology

The American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest severed ties with the national denomination on Thursday, concluding a yearlong battle.

The American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest severed ties with the national denomination on Thursday, concluding a yearlong battle over the theological interpretation of homosexuality.

The Board of Directors of the Pacific Southwest voted unanimously to confirm a late April decision by delegates from the region’s 300 churches to withdraw from the American Baptists Church, USA.

The board of directors always had the authority to withdraw, but decided to seek input from delegates of the local churches.

“The overwhelming response of delegates from the churches was a mandate in the minds of the members of the Board of Directors,” said Dr. Dale V. Salico, executive minister of the ABCPSW.

As in other historic mainline denominations, divisions over homosexuality have threatened the unity of 1.4 million-member American Baptists for years.

The denomination’s self-definition says 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."

However the church failed to discipline congregations that violated denominational law by blessing homosexual unions and ordaining openly homosexual ministers, sparking the ire of conservative regions like the Pacific Southwest.

Officials from the national church say that the denomination was never meant as an enforcer of laws and decrees.

Last year, the West Virginia association, the largest regional group with nearly 500 congregations, narrowly rejected a proposal to break with the national church.

The ABCPSW is the first to officially move forward with such a division.

Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of the ABCUSA, regretted the Pacific Southwest’s decision, saying “God’s heart is broken when sisters and brothers in Christ divide over matters of scriptural interpretation.”

He added his hopes that “this parting of the ways will not diminish our passion, commitment and undaunted spirit to move forward in mission and ministry."

Meanwhile Brian Scrivens, President of the Pacific Southwest, said his region will “seek opportunities for continued fellowship and partnership” despite the theological break.

“Our decision to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationship is made without animosity or malice,” he said. “We will continue to pray for God’s blessing on the ABCUSA, its leadership, agencies and congregations.”

The division will be made effective Nov. 1, 2006.

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