A comment by a Southern Baptist leader that a sister denomination affirms gay marriage is “completely outrageous,” said the top executive of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

Prior to Tuesday’s vote at the Southern Baptist Convention to sever ties with the Baptist World Alliance, Paige Patterson, a member of a study committee recommending the action, said the American Baptist convention, a BWA member, condoned homosexuality when it recognized the Evergreen Baptist Association in Washington state last year.

“The Evergreen Baptist Association is an association of churches in the American Baptist convention that is committed to being a gay-friendly place for churches,” said Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Patterson said Southern Baptists giving their name and money to the BWA would amount to tacit approval for gay marriage.

“Dr. Patterson’s statement is completely outrageous,” Roy Medley, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., said in a statement. “Nowhere, in any of our conversations with the BWA, has such an excuse ever been given.”

Medley said the action to pull out of the BWA was solely in response to the BWA’s vote to welcome the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into membership. “That is when the issue arose, and is the substance of their action, though they have consistently sought to cover it with patently untrue excuses, such as that the BWA is anti-American,” Medley said.

Medley said going on to characterize American Baptists as supporting gay marriage, however, “goes beyond the pale.”

A 1984 policy statement on the family, Medley said, affirms “that God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long, one-flesh union of a woman and man.”

Richard Schramm, American Baptists’ deputy general secretary for communications, expressed “regret that our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters have been given a misleading picture—one that distorts the very traditional Christian understanding of marriage and sexual expression held by a great majority of American Baptists.”

In addition to the denomination’s statement on marriage, Schramm said, a statement on homosexuality declares “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” These, Schramm said, “are clear and representative expressions of a people called to discipleship and service in the name of Christ.”

Marcia Patton, executive minister of the Evergreen Baptist Association, said Patterson was incorrect to say that American Baptists “created” the regional affiliate. The American Baptist Churches vote was to recognize the association, which started out of the American Baptist Churches in the Northwest, she said.

“There is too much that Baptists stand together on for us to bow to the agenda of the world in judging each other by what is said and done about one small issue around sexuality,” Patton said in an e-mail interview. “We are allowing the world to separate us, and more than us, God’s work.”

Patton said Baptists disagree on many issues, but the world needs a united witness of God’s love. The mission statement of Evergreen Baptist Association, she said, “is to build bridges between communities, provide resources to equip member churches to share Christ and teach God’s word, and translate our unity to the world.”

A moderate Baptist ethicist said Patterson violated the Ten Commandments by bearing “false witness against thy neighbor.”

“The Proverbs warn us that a false witness spreads deceit and sows discord, both of which Paige has done,” said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

“For all his decades of claiming to read the Bible literally, [Patterson] ignores the simplest teaching, smearing both American Baptists and Baptists around the world,” Parham said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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