Homosexuality Debate Strains ABC

Article excerpt

The surging debate over homosexuality and the churches is threatening to wash over yet another denomination, the American Baptist Churches. The ABC has managed to hold together a mix of liberal and conservative congregations for nearly 50 years. In recent months, however, conservative American Baptist churches have threatened to pull out of the denomination if regional or national leaders take actions that affirm homosexuality. At the same time, some liberal congregations that have joined a three-year-old association that welcomes gay, lesbian and bisexual persons are facing the prospect of being "disfellowshiped" from the denomination.

"I hope that we do the thing that will the least damage to our Christian brothers and sisters," said ABC President Hector Gonzalez, noting that no matter which way the denomination turns it stands to lose churches. While Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and United Methodists have had contentious public battles over homosexuality in recent years, American Baptists have been debating the issue with less fanfare. "It's been a positional fight rather than a dog fight," said Robert Ross, an American Baptist and adjunct professor of American religious history at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

In a recent interview Gonzalez said the denomination, headquartered in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, is dedicated to following what the Bible teaches about homosexuality - not a simple matter, since parties on both sides of the issue look to scripture to support their positions. It's important not to let our sensitivities override our convictions," he maintained.

A number of specific situations are being watched closely by Baptists on either side of the homosexuality issue, but one matter in particular that has become something of a lightning rod is the request of an openly gay pastoral counselor for endorsement by the denomination. The endorsement is a requirement for membership in the nation's primary accrediting body for pastoral counselors. Last month Mark Crosby of Reading, Massachusetts, was denied that endorsement for the second time by a denominational committee because he is gay. …