The West Virginia Baptist Convention on Wednesday voted against pulling out of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. over homosexuality, but also declined to reaffirm ties to the national body.
A 65-church coalition calling itself West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth last month announced it would seek to amend the West Virginia Baptist Convention constitution to remove the region from the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
Their resolution charged that ordination of practicing homosexuals and affirmation of gay lifestyles by some American Baptist churches is contrary to Scripture.
Delegates defeated the motion to sever ties with the ABC/USA in a vote reported as 391-325.
But a separate motion by Allen Reasons, senior minister of Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington, W.Va., to affirm ties with the denomination also failed, 402-276.
It appears, however, that neither vote will put the issue to rest. The West Virginia Baptist Convention executive board on Sept. 10 approved a study of "facts and options" concerning the region's future relationship with American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., prolonging debate over an issue that threatens to split the 1.5 million-member denomination.
"I see (the vote) as a message that the homosexual issue deserves careful and continued consideration. It is a deep concern for our denomination," David Carrico, the convention's executive minister, told the Associated Press.
The West Virginia Baptist Convention has about 465 churches. It is the largest of 35 regions affiliated with the 5,800-church American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
The national denomination is on record as declaring homosexual activity incompatible with the Bible's teaching, but conservatives say that view has never been implemented as a policy. Churches that affirm gays and lesbians remain members in good standing of the national body and are well represented on denominational boards.
Last month, the 300-church American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest announced it was defecting from the national body in what Christianity Today described as the largest church exodus from any denomination over the issue of homosexuality. At least four other regions are considering similar action.
In September, executive ministers from eight ABC/USA regions across the country met at a conference center in Parchment Valley, W. Va., to forge an agreement for cooperation in mission based on "mutually held core values."
The eight regions--American Baptist churches of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana/Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania/Delaware, New Jersey, Maine and the Pacific Southwest--represent more than 2,300 churches, 40 percent of ABC/USA congregations.
The executives identified "core values" as biblical authority, "associational integrity and accountability among regions," leadership development and "equipping our churches to impact the world for Christ."
American Baptist Evangelicals, a group started a decade ago to bring "renewal" to the denomination, met Sept. 23-24 at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Ill., to plan the next step for conservatives.
While organizers said they did not want to form a new denomination, the meeting reportedly adjourned with plans to create an organization that would provide denominational services. Leaders estimated the new association might number between 1,500 and 2,000 churches.
A petition by the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky to revise membership rules forbidding a church expelled from one region over homosexuality from remaining American Baptist by joining another region received a first reading in June.
Signatures are being collected on an alternate proposal by the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genessee Region of New York State to outline an appeals process for dismissed churches, which could receive a first reading this fall.
American Baptist officials say they regret division over homosexuality, but the denomination exercises no control over membership decisions by local churches or regions.
American Baptists who oppose homosexuality received a setback when the senate of the ABC/USA Ministers Council rejected a bylaw proposal to refuse seating to homosexuals. It was prompted by a lesbian senator's marriage to her spouse last year under a Massachusetts law allowing same-sex couples to wed.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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