American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. moved a step closer to splintering over homosexuality on Saturday, when delegates representing churches of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest voted overwhelmingly to sever formal ties with the denomination.

More than half of the region’s 300 churches registered to vote at meetings held in seven locations, according to American Baptist News Service. Delegates voted 1,125 to 209 to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships and Agreements, a written agreement that binds American Baptist regions with the national body.

The non-binding vote now goes to the region’s board of directors for action at a meeting scheduled May 11. The board had the authority to sever ties and recommended withdrawal last fall but opted for a series of special meetings “to provide the board with the guidance and input it needs to make a responsible and informed decision.”

“Deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest and the American Baptist Churches in the USA have brought increasing strain on the relationship of the 300 churches of the Region and its national denomination for many years,” regional leaders said in a press release.

“The board of directors is grieved that the differences between the region and its national denomination have not been resolved. This decision is made without animosity or malice.  The leadership of the ABCPSW affirms that our brothers and sisters in the ABCUSA are loved and respected. The action will place some distance between the ABCPSW and the ABCUSA that will clarify the distinctiveness of these ministries.”

Roy Medley, general secretary of the 1.4-million-member American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., said “It is with profound sorrow that we have come to this point of separation.”

“Though not uncommon in Baptist life, such actions grieve the heart of God and our Lord Jesus Christ,” Medley said.

ABCUSA president Arlee Griffin Jr, “We regret the actions of some of the churches in ABCPSW in breaking the unity of our denominational family. We consider it unfortunate that, at a time when secular society is merging and coming together, there are those in our Christian family who seek to divide even in light of our Lord’s request to remain one in unity.”

If the region votes to sever ties, not all churches of the region will leave. A number of congregations have indicated they want to remain American Baptist and will form an association of American Baptist churches immediately after the region board votes May 11 to end its covenant.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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