A group of American Baptists in West Virginia is urging churches to withhold funding for the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. until the denomination removes churches that affirm homosexual clergy and laity.
The group, West Virginia Baptist Churches for Biblical Truth, is calling for removal of all "welcoming and affirming" congregations—those churches advocating full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in American Baptist life—by June 1, 2005.
Should the ABC/USA miss that deadline, the group says it will encourage the West Virginia Baptist Convention to sever ties with the 1.5 million-member national denomination, according to a conservative Web site.
American Baptist Evangelicals, a group affirming biblical infallibility formed in 1992 for "renewal" of the ABC, said the "new grassroots organization" recently sent a letter to all churches in the West Virginia Baptist Convention asking them to ratify and sign a resolution calling for the action.
The resolution says ABC/USA leadership "compromised" a 1992 resolution declaring homosexual behavior "incompatible with Christian teaching" by permitting five gay-friendly churches disfellowshipped by two American Baptist regions to remain in good standing with the national convention by associating with another regional body.
While affirming American Baptist polity and traditions granting autonomy to regions to determine their own membership, the resolution questions "inability and/or disregard" to exercise accountability and discipline on wayward congregations. Churches that choose to "practice and witness to an unbiblical lifestyle," it says, bring "reproach on the vast majority of American Baptists," it says.
"Regardless of the 1992 resolution to the contrary, we become guilty by association in the eyes of many," the resolution claims.
A staff member of American Baptist Evangelicals did not respond to an e-mail seeking contact information for West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth by Thursday's deadline for this story. The executive director of the West Virginia Baptist Convention also did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
A 1993 resolution passed by the ABC/USA General Board acknowledged a "variety of understandings" among American Baptists on sexuality issues including homosexuality and called for dialogue and mutual respect.
Denominational leaders, however, admit that American Baptists overwhelmingly hold traditional views on family issues like gay marriage. In fact, they cried foul in June when a Southern Baptist Convention leader accused the ABC/USA of being too tolerant of homosexuals to argue why the SBC ought to sever ties with the Baptist World Alliance.
The West Virginia petition isn't the only debate currently dividing American Baptists over homosexuality. Leaders of American Baptist Churches in the Southwest recently asked the denomination's minister's council to refuse to seat a senator who reportedly solemnized her marriage with a lesbian partner in Massachusetts.
The council, a fellowship and resource body that is separate from the denominational structure, will vote on the proposal next year and in the meantime is planning a series of "Jerusalem Council"-style meetings to attempt to resolve differences over homosexuality.
An American Baptist region in Iowa and Minnesota voted Aug. 27 to deny requests of two churches to recognize two ordinations after learning that the candidates were gay, according to an e-newsletter of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists.
A leader of the 50-church association described the current climate as "a time of division and confusion," which is prompting some gay-friendly congregations and individuals to re-evaluate their future role in American Baptist life.
"Some in the Association are asking if this is the moment to shake the dust from our sandals and find more life-giving relationships," Daniel Pryfogle, AWAB interim director, said in the e-newsletter. "Others are calling for deeper engagement with those who oppose us."
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.