Leaders of the American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) rebuffed the charge made against them during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), at which one of the conference speakers accused the ABC of being in favor of gay marriage.
Paige Patterson, one of the executive committee members of the SBC, delivered a terse speech to the 8,500 messengers gathered at the Indianapolis convention center on June 15, explaining why he believed the SBC should break their 99-year old relationship with the Baptist World Alliance.
“If you will turn on your computer and look at the page of the American convention and look at their computer presentation, you will discover that the American Baptist convention last year established the Evergreen association. The evergreen Baptist association is an association of churches within the American Baptist convention that is committed to being a gay friendly place for churches and people of that disposition,” Patterson pointed out before the messengers.
"What you are allied with, you are giving tacit -- at least -- agreement to," continued Patterson, who went on to say that Southern Baptists can no longer “afford to give either money or name” to support a “liberal” organization like the BWA.
"We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for 'gay marriage' is on, to be in an alliance of any kind with those denominations which support in any form or fashion “gay marriage,” Patterson said amid loud applause.
Two thirds of the messengers voted for the resolution to withdraw SBC support from the BWA by a show of hands.
Following the meeting, the General Secretary of the BWA, Denton Lotz, expressed his grief over the messengers’ decision, and defended the ABCUSA from Patterson’s charge.
“The ABC has a statement that says that homosexuality is inconsistent with the Christian lifestyle. So I think the American Baptists are going to want to respond to that attack, which became the basis for the delegates voting for withdrawal,” said Lotz. "I would be very, very sad and shocked if this speech by Dr. Patterson becomes the reason why the Southern Baptist Convention left the BWA.
Lotz also correctly assessed that the “American Baptists are going to be very hurt and shocked."
The General Secretary of the ABCUSA immediately rebutted Patterson’s statement and called it a mere ‘excuse’ to leave the fellowship.
"Dr. Patterson's statement is completely outrageous. Nowhere, in any of the conversations with the BWA, has such an excuse ever been given,” wrote the Rev. Roy Medley. “To characterize American Baptist Churches USA as being in favor of gay marriage goes beyond the pale! Our Policy Statement on Family Life, adopted in 1984, maintains, 'We affirm that God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long, one flesh union of a woman and a man.... We affirm God's blessing and active presence in marriage relationships...'"
Medley also suggested that the true reason the SBC is withdrawing from the BWA is over the inclusion of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship – a liberal denomination that broke away from the SBC because of theological differences – into the BWA fellowship.
“Their action to pull out was clearly and solely a response to the BWA's vote to welcome the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into the Baptist World Alliance. That is when the issue arose, and is the substance of their action though they have consistently sought to cover it with patently untrue excuses, such as that the BWA is anti-American,” wrote Medley.
Meanwhile, Richard W. Schramm Deputy General Secretary for Communication for ABCUSA, wrote a softer letter of regret for both the SBC’s decision to withdraw from the Alliance and Patterson’s charge against the ABC.
"We deeply regret the Southern Baptist Convention's decision to leave the Baptist World Alliance--perhaps most importantly because it now will be vacating a seat at the table where vital mission and ministry affecting 50 million Baptists worldwide will be prayerfully planned. The Southern Baptist voice, counsel and fellowship will be missed,” wrote Schramm.
"And we regret that our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters have been given a misleading picture--one that distorts the very traditional Christian understanding of marriage and sexual expression held by the great majority of American Baptists. The denomination's statement on marriage--which affirms monogamous, lifelong heterosexual unions--and its statement on homosexuality--which maintains 'that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching'--are clear and representative expressions of a people called to discipleship and service in the name of Christ."
Meanwhile, the Evergreen Baptist Association (EBA) – the 35th and newest region of the ABCUSA, asserted that it was not “gay friendly” as a whole.
“The by-laws, mission and vision statements of Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches have nothing that identify us a body that is “gay-friendly,”” the June 17 statement read.
However, the EBA added that several of its member churches are in fact “Welcoming and Affirming” to gays and lesbians.
“Evergreen does have two Welcoming and Affirming churches out of the 31 churches in our fellowship,” they wrote. “Some of our churches would stand on the other end of the theological spectrum from the Welcoming and Affirming ones and churches along the spectrum in between; yet we continue to work together as one in Christ. Evergreen is best described by our mission and vision statements, by-laws and the work we do together, not by the special ministries of a few of our churches.”
The ABCUSA was not one of the 25 religious organizations that urged members of the U.S. Congress to reject the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment.
The June 2 letter called on the Congress to "soundly reject any attempt to enshrine into the Constitution a particular religious viewpoint on a matter of such fundamental religious importance."
Denominations and organizations that signed the letter include: the Alliance of Baptists, American Friends Service Committee (Quaker), American Jewish Committee, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Guru Gobind Singh Foundation (Sikh), National Conference of Community and Justice, Metropolitan Community Churches, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington office, The Interfaith Alliance, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries..