The Alliance of Baptists has issued a statement decrying “the politicization of gay marriage” in the current presidential campaign and supporting all Americans’ rights to “full marriage equality.”

The 115-church Alliance also elected a Baltimore woman chaplain as president and criticized the United States’ policy on Cuba at the group’s annual convocation last week in Dayton, Ohio.

Cherie Smith, a chaplain at Franklin Square Hospital in Baltimore and a member of Woodbrook Baptist Church, is the new president. Chris Copeland, minister of youth at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Atlanta, is vice president. Mary Sue Brookshire, a chaplain at San Diego State University, was elected to a second term as secretary, according to reports of the annual meeting on the Alliance Web site.

The Alliance, formed in 1987, alternates between male and female presidents. Craig Henry, an attorney from Monroe, La., served as president the last two years. The group also alternates leadership between clergy and laity.

Described by members more as a movement than an organization, the Alliance is smaller and lesser-known than the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a second major group to break away from the Southern Baptist Convention in response to a fundamentalist takeover in 1991. While the CBF’s stated focus is on missions and church resources, the Alliance specializes in work for interfaith and ecumenical relations and on sometimes controversial social issues including human sexuality and the environment.

In business at this year’s convocation, the group restated its call for an end to the United States’ ban on travel to Cuba and pledged to continue its work with others for normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba. The Alliance, which frequently sponsors church exchanges between Cuba and the U.S. through a partnership with the Fraternity of Baptist Churches in Cuba, issued similar statements on U.S.-Cuba relations in each of the last three annual meetings.

A statement on same-sex marriage affirmed that the Constitution exists to protect “the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority.” It decried “the politicization of same-sex marriage in the current presidential contest and other races for public office” and specifically rejected proposed amendments to the U.S. and state constitutions “that would enshrine discrimination against sexual minorities and define marriage in such a was as to deny same-sex couples a legal framework in which to care for one another and those entrusted to their care.”

“As Christians and as Baptists, we particularly lament the denigration of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers in this debate by those who claim to speak for God,” the statement continued. “We affirm that the Alliance of Baptists supports the rights of all citizens to full marriage equality, and we affirm anew that the Alliance will ‘create places of refuge and renewal for those who are ignored by the church.'”

The quoted material is from the Alliance of Baptists’ mission statement.

At a board meeting prior to the meeting at First Baptist Church in Dayton, Alliance directors moved nearly $17,000 from unrestricted net assets to cover a shortfall in the 2003 Mission Offering. Last year’s offering of $84,611 came in well short of a goal of $104,000, which had been allotted to 26 recipients. Next year’s offering goal is $113,000.

The Alliance has an annual budget of $339,847, including a new allocation of $1,000 for the interfaith relations program of the National Council of Churches.

The Alliance also announced the hiring of a part-time development director. Todd Heifner of Birmingham, Ala., begins work with the Alliance May 1. A member of Birmingham’s Baptist Church of the Covenant, an Alliance-member congregation, Heifner previously worked in development roles at Samford University, the Baptist Joint Committee and most recently at Passport, Inc., a non-profit youth camping organization.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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