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American Baptist Churches in the USA and homosexuality

Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.
Schism by the ABCUSA's Pacific Southwest region.

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Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB)

This gay-positive association was formed during the 1991 Biennial meeting of the ABCUSA at Charleston WV. Their goal is to:

"... encourage church leadership to welcome & affirm LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual] people into full participation in faith community..." 1

Although AWAB was founded by members of the ABCUSA, it has since included individuals and churches from different Baptist backgrounds, including the Alliance of Baptists.

They welcome and affirm gay, lesbian and bisexual members, and advocate for the ordination of openly gay clergy in the ABCUSA. Many AWAB congregations also bless the unions of committed gay and lesbian couples. By 1995, 30 churches and organizations within the ABCUSA had joined. In accordance with the non-creedal Baptist tradition, the AWAB does not require its members to agree to a standard statement of belief or intent. They ask that each potential member submit their own statement.

Centuries-old traditions of soul freedom and congregation autonomy within the Baptist movement allows individuals and congregations to hold diverse beliefs as their biblical studies and the Holy Spirit leads them. Within the ABCUSA, this tradition does not necessarily extend to beliefs about homosexuality. Many ABCUSA congregations have been expelled from the denomination because of their affiliation with AWAB. This drastic action does not seem to have slowed the growth of AWAB. As of early 2008, it has more than 60 affiliated churches and organizations.

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2005-SEP: Decision to separate by the Pacific Southwest region of the ABCUSA:

The Pacific Southwest region (ABCPSW) includes congregations in Arizona, California, Hawaii, and Nevada.

On 2005-SEP-08, leaders of the 300 churches in the ABCPSW decided in principle to separate from the denomination. They split was based on what the region regarded as inactivity by the denomination in refusing to discipline congregations that have taken an inclusive position towards their homosexual members. The region noted that the denomination had declared same-sex relationships to be incompatible with Christianity. Yet, the denomination had allowed congregations that welcomed sexually active gays, lesbians and bisexuals to remain in the ABCUSA. Some churches that had been expelled by their regions had been accepted by some of the denomination's self-governing regions, such as the Evergreen Association in Washington and the Rochester-Genesee region in New York state.

On SEP-12, Dale Salico, the ABCPSW region's executive minister, wrote a letter to the pastors and congregations stating that the regional board:

"... has determined that the time has come to create distance between the ABCPSW and the ABCUSA so that both may move ahead in the mission God has given them without continued conflict."

This is a curious statement, because it seems to imply that God wants the ABCPSW to continue to exclude homosexuals, while he wants the ABCUSA to continue working towards the inclusion of homosexuals.

Brian Scrivens, the ABCPSW board president said the action was taken:

"... because the deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest and the American Baptist Churches in the USA are understood by the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW as irreconcilable."

In response, members of the National Executive Council of American Baptist Churches USA said that they:

"... deeply regret the action taken by the ABC of the Pacific Southwest, whom we love in Christ. ...Our denomination has been blessed by the historic commitment by our regions to interdependent dialog and action for mission in the name of Christ. We grieve when partners in ministry move away from that covenantal relationship."

ABC General Secretary Roy Medley addressed the ABCUSA 2005 biennial meeting, saying:

"We stand at a crossroads. ... In our world, the path of radical discipleship -- the path of radical love -- is the road less taken. We dare not choose another. We dare not choose the wrong road ... the road that leads to separation. That choice will certainly unite you with like-minded people but will give you small souls and make you comfortable Christians."

The ABCPSW Board of Directors also decided to terminate contributions to the national headquarters at the end of 2005.

The Rev. Glenn E. Layne, pastor of First Baptist Church in Temple City, CA was one of the leaders favoring a schism. He said that the decision:

"... is not a gay-bashing issue. This is an authority-of-scripture issue. ...This is not a happy day, But I have to believe that God is preparing us for something better."

An ABCUSA leader in West Virginia said that some congregations in his region were also planning to leave the denomination. 2 In a subsequent meeting, they narrowly rejected a proposal to separate.

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2006-APR/MAY: The ABCPSW split is implemented:

The 300 American Baptist Churches Pacific Southwest region's congregations met on 2006-APR-29 to vote whether to split from the denomination.

Dale Salico, executive minister for the region, said in a statement:

"The overwhelming response of delegates from the churches was a mandate in the minds of the members of the Board of Directors. We had asked the churches to enter a period of spiritual discernment on our relationship with the ABC (USA), and to come to the April 29 meeting prepared either to confirm or to correct the discernment of the Region Board. An overwhelming majority of the delegates voted in favor of withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationship."

The ABCPSW board voted unanimously on 2006-MAY-11 to separate from the ABCUSA.

Roy Medley, general secretary of the denomination, said in a statement that:

"God's heart is broken when sisters and brothers in Christ divide over matters of scriptural interpretation. This parting of the ways will not diminish our passion, commitment and undaunted spirit to move forward in mission and ministry."

ABC speaker Tony Campolo said:

"The decision hurts some of the finest missionary work in today's world. More important, it runs counter to the prayer of Christ that we might all be one people."

Judy Allbee, executive minister of ABC congregations in Connecticut, said:

"it is a sad day for the cause of Jesus Christ when one part of the body cannot tolerate being with the rest of the body."

Ken Perkins, president of AWAB said:

"I believe it is possible to maintain unity in the ABC without doctrinal agreement over homosexuality. ...I'm extraordinarily grateful for regions like Evergreen, Rochester-Genesee, Wisconsin, Metropolitan New York, Metro Chicago, Massachusetts and the Philadelphia Association which are known for their extravagant welcome of all into the family of God. I hope other regions may eventually move in the same direction." 4

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Author's comments:

Unfortunately, God does not seem to allow people to determine his will. If individuals and faith groups could assess the will of God through prayer or by any other means, schisms like that of the ABCPSW would never happen. Without such a connection to God, both the ABCPSW and ABCUSA will now march off into the future, each supremely confident that they know God's wishes. Yet one of them is clearly wrong.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. AWAB's home page is at:
  2. "American Baptist churches to split over gay issue," Deseret News, Salt Lake City, 2005-SEP-24, at:
  3. Robert Marus, "American Baptist region withdraws, may trigger split in denomination," 2005-SEP-13, Associated Baptist Press, at:
  4. Gregory Tomlin, "Split among American Baptists over homosexuality is final," Baptist Press, 2006-MAY-18, at:

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Copyright 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-28.
Latest update: 2008-JAN-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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