COVINA, Calif. (ABP) — Leaders of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest took the final step May 11 to remove the regional group from their national denomination, primarily over its handling of homosexuality.
The region's board of directors affirmed an earlier recommendation to withdraw from its “Covenant of Relationships and Agreements” with the American Baptist Churches USA. The national denomination is based in Valley Forge, Pa.
“God's heart is broken when sisters and brothers in Christ divide over matters of scriptural interpretation. We pray God's blessing on PSW as they go their way from the ABC family,” said Roy Medley, the denomination's general secretary, according to American Baptist News Service. He also said “this parting of the ways will not diminish our passion, commitment and undaunted spirit to move forward in mission and ministry.”
According to a press release from the Pacific Southwest region, the vote by the board of directors was unanimous.
The latest decision ratifies an April 29 “straw poll” vote of delegates from the region's churches. In that vote, held at First Baptist Church in Pomona, Calif., and other locations around the region, members representing congregations voted 1,125-209 to terminate the covenant. In American Baptist polity, such covenants are important written agreements that bind the region with the national body.
The region's executive minister, Dale Salico, said in a May 12 press release that such an “overwhelming response” indicated a “mandate” from the vast majority of the region's American Baptists. The release also noted that 152 of the region's 250 eligible churches participated in the vote.
The region's board of directors, in initially recommending the severance, released a statement saying they made the recommendation because “deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest (ABCPSW) and the American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABCUSA) are understood by the board of directors of the ABCPSW as irreconcilable.”
Most of the “irreconcilable” differences seemed to focus on the way the denomination, with approximately 1.5 million members in more than 5,800 churches, relates to gay-friendly ministers and congregations. Even though American Baptist leaders approved a 1992 resolution opposing homosexual conduct, some ABC conservatives have asserted the wording and the enforcement of the motion on denominational agencies and personnel are not strong enough.
An August 2005 vote by the ABC-USA Ministers' Council particularly riled conservatives in the denomination. In it, the ministers defeated a proposed amendment that would have required members of the organization to be ministers who believe “sexual intimacy is only appropriate in the context of heterosexual marriage.”
Progressive and centrist American Baptists, meanwhile, have tried to defend what they see as traditional Baptist stances on congregational autonomy and individual conscience in opposing the ouster of pro-gay churches and leaders.
The region's churches still have to decide individually whether to sever their relationships with the national denomination. A new group, called the Association of American Baptists in the Pacific Southwest, has established itself to coordinate the work of churches that choose to stay in the denomination. The group's website says it will work with the Los Angeles Baptist City Society, a local association of American Baptist churches.
In the meantime, according to the departed region's website, American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest will change its name to Transformation Ministries, which the site describes as “a movement of Baptist churches committed to change their worlds for Christ.”