American Baptist Churches in the USA
Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.
Schism by the ABCUSA's Pacific Southwest region.
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
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.
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
ABC General Secretary Roy Medley addressed the ABCUSA 2005 biennial meeting,
"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
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
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
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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
AWAB's home page is at:
"American Baptist churches to split over gay issue," Deseret News, Salt Lake
City, 2005-SEP-24, at:
Robert Marus, "American Baptist region withdraws, may trigger split in
denomination," 2005-SEP-13, Associated Baptist Press, at:
Gregory Tomlin, "Split among American Baptists over homosexuality is final,"
Baptist Press, 2006-MAY-18, at: