After years of conflict centering mainly on the issue of homosexuality, a large, southern California–based regional body of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A. has voted to continue the process of separating itself from the denomination.
“I have become profoundly disenchanted with our General Assembly process . . . the unsatisfactory way we were dealing with difficult and complex theological issues . . . and the toxic by-products of perpetually creating winners and losers, friends who are with us and enemies who oppose us.”
Christians of good heart and good faith sincerely disagree about whether or how biblical passages regarding homosexual behavior relate to the current debates. Exegesis is not solving the problem. What to do? One way is to seek help from a parallel situation in the Bible, like the one Israel faced following the exile. The question was how to reconstitute the nation. With its institutions shattered, how would Israel move forward?
Resisting efforts to eliminate organizational havens for congregations that welcome gays, American Baptist leaders and delegates meeting in Denver maintained an open stance on homosexuality—even if that means living with a “paradox,” as it was put by the denomination’s top executive.
In an appeal to American Baptists last November, the denomination’s top official said he suffered “many sleepless nights” worrying whether controversies over homosexuality would shatter the fragile unity of the denomination. “I agonize over the fact that many feel a split is inevitable,” wrote A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.
Seeking to accompany its apology to overseas Anglicans for the anguish caused by approving a gay bishop’s ordination in 2003, the U.S. Episcopal bishops have decided to withhold consent for any new bishops elected by dioceses over the next 14 months.
Almost more than any other Christian group, Anglicans are notoriously—and proudly—hard to pin down. They are not fully Protestant yet not quite Catholic; hierarchical yet independent; scripturally literate but not literalistic; equal parts New York and Nairobi.
After nearly four years—some say 15 years—of discussion the largest U.S. Lutheran denomination will soon hear if it has some practical and moral wisdom for dealing with homosexual issues that have divided other mainline church bodies for decades.