- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The Southern Baptist Convention voted yesterday to sever its 99-year relationship with the Baptist World Alliance on the grounds that it includes a Baptist denomination with openly homosexual members.

At its annual meeting in Indianapolis, the Convention voted overwhelmingly to break away from BWA, because the worldwide umbrella group also includes American Baptist Churches USA, which has about 30 congregations that call themselves “welcoming and affirming” to homosexuals.

In a speech to the convention, the Rev. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the Falls Church-based BWA has churches “committed to being a gay-friendly place for churches and people of that disposition.”

Mr. Patterson singled out the Seattle-based Evergreen Baptist Association, among the most liberal of the American Baptist’s 35 regional associations, as being especially soft on homosexuality.

“What you give your name and your money to, you give your tacit approval to,” Mr. Patterson said, adding that the Convention “can no longer afford to be aligned in any way” with such churches at a time when homosexual “marriage” is one of the nation’s leading public issues.

After an appeal to reconsider from the Rev. Larry Walker, a delegate from First Baptist Church in Dallas, debate was cut off and the Convention voted with a show of hands, roughly 80 percent to 20 percent, to sever ties, according to Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary.

BWA and American Baptist officials reacted with fury afterward, saying both were being tarred falsely.

“We were unfairly accused of being associated with gay marriage,” Mr. Lotz said. “The Baptist World Alliance doesn’t accept gay marriage.”

American Baptist, based in Valley Forge, Pa., has about 5,700 churches and 1.5 million members. It declared in 1992 that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

“To characterize American Baptist Churches USA as being in favor of gay marriage goes beyond the pale,” said the Rev. A. Roy Medley, American Baptist general secretary. He added that a 1984 policy statement adopted by the denomination allows marriage only between a man and a woman.

Richard Schramm, an American Baptist spokesman, called Mr. Patterson’s speech “reprehensible.”

“Baptists are autonomous, and we can’t dictate what churches do,” he said, “but our policy is very traditional.”

The homosexuality charge came as a shock to the seven BWA staff who had flown to Indianapolis in a last-ditch effort to talk Southern Baptists out of leaving. The 16.3-million-member Convention was the largest member of BWA, which includes 211 Baptist fellowships encompassing 47 million members around the world.

BWA officials said they had expected criticism over such issues as women’s ordination, which it supports but which the Convention opposes, and BWA’s decision last summer to admit the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a breakaway group from the Convention.

Those were the issues that led the Convention’s executive committee to vote 62-10 in February to remove its annual $300,000 contribution — one-fifth of BWA’s budget.

“What we did not expect was the angle presented to the SBC members,” BWA spokeswoman Wendy Ryan said. “Gay marriage had never been an issue in our discussions. But once they introduced the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage, that galvanized the crowd.”

Despite an April 13 meeting between both sides in Nashville, Tenn., Convention officials refused to renege on their plans to pull out. They also informed BWA it would not publicize its annual breakfast during the Convention nor allow it booth space at the convention.

BWA eventually accepted an offer of booth space from the Women’s Missionary Union, a Baptist group, in a nearby hotel. But only 100 persons showed up at the breakfast, Miss Ryan said.

In other business at the Convention, Southern Baptists elected as president the Rev. Bobby Welch, 61, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a decorated U.S. Army Green Beret platoon leader during the Vietnam War.

The 8,000 Southern Baptists at the meeting also heard a speech from President Bush that stressed his support for “a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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