Magazine article The Christian Century

American Baptist Progressives Nix Restructuring

Magazine article The Christian Century

American Baptist Progressives Nix Restructuring

Article excerpt

While celebrating the denomination's broad ethnic, regional and linguistic diversity at their biennial meeting June 26-28, members of the American Baptist Churches USA also exhibited their ideological diversity

Delegates, meeting in Pasadena, California, torpedoed a major restructuring that had been backed by denominational officials but criticized by many progressive leaders and churches.

The 377-217 tally in favor of the bylaws changes failed by a handful of votes to reach the two-thirds majority required to pass them.

The revisions would have spun off the denomination's two mission boards into quasi-autonomous entities, altered the form of representation on ABCUSA's main governing board and changed the method by which American Baptists approve policy statements and resolutions.

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ABC general secretary Roy Medley, reelected earlier in a 65-11 vote by General Board members to a third four-year term as the church's top executive, said that he would meet with ABC leaders to consider a new restructuring proposal. "We have received feedback that our efforts need further work," he said.

Progressive congregations and organizations said they feared that the changes would further marginalize their voice within the denomination and make it more difficult to rescind past ABC statements condemning homosexuality.

Grant Ward, a delegate from Wayne, Pennsylvania, read a statement that his Central Baptist Church had approved opposing the bylaws revision. It declared that the changes would make it more difficult to rescind official ABC actions with which the congregation disagrees, including a 1992 ABC General Board statement on homosexuality, which says: "We affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

In addition, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists voiced concern that the proposal contained no explicit affirmation that a church can choose to affiliate with a regional group outside the geographical area in which it is located.

In the last 20 years, a handful of pro-gay American Baptist congregations have been expelled from regional ABC groups. Many of them have affiliated with more progressive regional groups outside their area--the only way for a local church to continue its affiliation with the national denomination. …

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