The senate of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., Ministers Council has rejected a bylaw amendment designed to refuse seating to homosexuals.
Cynthia Maybeck, pastor of Trinity Church of Northborough, Mass., a congregation dually aligned with the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., and the United Church of Christ, was elected by American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts Conference of Baptist Ministers as a senator on the ABC/USA Ministers Council, a 69-year-old fellowship and resource-producing body that is separate from the organizational structure of the denomination based in Valley Forge, Pa.
Reports surfaced last year that Maybeck had married her lesbian partner after Massachusetts legalized gay marriage. That prompted an effort to remove her from the senate, but leaders determined that bylaws define membership only as representatives elected by constituent councils and thereby did not allow for removal of a senator.
Ministers council leaders in the American Baptist Churches in the Pacific Southwest responded by recommending an amendment to the bylaws. It would have required that senators “maintain sexual integrity consistent with the teaching of Scripture that sexual intimacy is to be experienced between a man and a woman committed to each other in marriage.”
Following a year-long conversation marked by a “Jerusalem Council” process involving listening sessions on homosexuality and the church, the Ministers Council Senate on Aug. 22 voted not to change the bylaws, American Baptist News Service reported Monday.
The proposed amendment failed 32-30, but required a two-thirds vote to pass.
The leaders passed a resolution reaffirming that senators ” must be members in good standing who uphold the biblical principles embodied in the Covenant and Code of Ethics for Ministerial Leaders of American Baptist Churches” and urged constituent councils “to give due consideration to all the policies, resolutions, and statements of concern of the ABC/USA when electing representatives to the Ministers Council Senate.”
Jeff Woods, the ABC/USA associate general secretary for regional ministries, said senators “viewed the issue as multi-faceted rather than as merely a referendum on the rightness or wrongness of the practice of homosexuality.”
Points of discussion included the autonomy of local councils and rights and responsibilities of the national senate, Woods said. Other conversations centered on theological, spiritual and political dimensions, including the issue of biblical interpretation and the amount of time spent on a single issue.
Kate Harvey, executive director of the Ministers Council, urged senators to put the issue behind them and focus on the strengthening of constituent groups. “The journey has been long and arduous, and we have learned much along the way,” she said. “None of us fully possesses the mind of God, and it is together that we discern more completely the fullness of God’s truth.”
Maybeck, whose church is a member of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail that she no longer serves on the Ministers Council and was not present for the annual meeting or vote in Green Lake, Wis.
Dale Salico, executive minister of American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest, did not respond to a request for comment.
In a position paper on the region’s Web site, however, Salico complained that American Baptists’ General Board has adopted a clear statement that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, but it has not been implemented as policy.
“For over two decades the ABC/USA has vacillated on the issue of homosexuality, seeking to retain in its membership both those advocating a ‘welcoming and affirming’ position and those holding to the position of classical Christianity on human sexuality issues,” he wrote. “The result of this vacillation has been the continued decline and stagnation of the ABC/USA, which at the present time has brought us perilously close to schism.”
The Ministers Council vote is the latest in a series of recent developments in a long dispute over homosexuality among American Baptists. Prior to this summer’s biennial meeting in Denver, three regions threatened to leave or stop giving money unless the national denomination takes steps to remove Welcoming & Affirming churches.
A petition from the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky, which would forbid churches dismissed from one region for affirming homosexuality from joining another region, received a first reading in Denver.
Delegates in Denver, meanwhile, adopted a Statement of Concern reaffirming “the historic Baptist principle of voluntary association that allows local churches to join together in common mission and ministry” and encouraged judicatories “to cooperate with churches by allowing a variety of ways to work together.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.