GREEN LAKE, Wis. (American Baptist News Service)—The General Board of the American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., on Friday voted in favor of a region-sponsored petition from cooperating churches asking the denomination to take a stronger stand against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.The vote was 59-45, with five abstentions.

Passage of the petition, from the denomination’s Indiana-Kentucky region, changes a descriptive document titled “We Are American Baptists.” It adds to the document a phrase reading “who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.”

Larry Mason, executive minister of the Indiana-Kentucky region, said after the meeting that “we don’t see it as a victory so much as a statement by our constituency that the Bible is our authority.”

The vote on the petition was preceded by spirited discussion on both sides of the issue, and a motion to table was defeated, 66-30.

A resolution from the Mid-America region (Iowa and Minnesota), “of concern for the family and our American Baptist family of churches,” was defeated by a vote of 58-49 with three abstentions. The resolution had been criticized from the floor as saying “too much about too many subjects.”

Since 1992, the denomination has had a national resolution that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” However, under American Baptist polity this resolution contained no implementing provisions and has not been binding on local churches or on area or regional associations.

Supporters of the Indiana-Kentucky resolution had criticized the national denomination for not taking further steps to implement the 1992 resolution. In recent months, the debate has been especially sharp, and one of the church’s 35 regions, the Pacific Southwest, has begun the process of separating from the ABCUSA.

Pacific Southwest Regional Minister Dale Salico addressed the General Board Friday morning and laid out three actions the ABC-USA could take to persuade PSW to halt its move to leave the denomination. These have been received by the General Board’s executive committee.

The Indiana-Kentucky Resolution originally called for allowing regions to consider affiliation requests only from churches within their own or contiguous regions, and stating that a church dismissed by a region could gain re-entry into the ABCUSA  only through the region from which it was dismissed. These provisions were dropped from the final resolution after questions were raised about whether their wording was specific enough to satisfy denominational bylaws or allow informed debate.

The debate on homosexuality and same-sex marriage has proceeded in several forums within the denomination. In August, 2005, the Senate of the denomination’s Ministers Council voted 32-30 to reject a requirement that would have barred practicing homosexuals from Senate membership.

In a November, 2004, meeting, the Regional Executive Ministers Council voted by 20 to 3 with three abstentions to refrain from recommending practicing homosexuals for positions and ministries at the regional and national levels, and not to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In June, 2005, a national “consultation statement on mission and ministry” reviewed the history of the debate, noting the original 1992 national resolution and one by the General Board in 1993, calling for continuing dialogue on issues of human sexuality and recognizing “that there is an ongoing difference of opinion among American Baptists on the issue of homosexuality.”

The 2005 statement added, “Today we have deep divisions around our understanding of Biblical interpretation, human sinfulness, and the potential of ministering together. We further acknowledge that not all churches consider this issue to be central to mission and ministry.”

For presentation to the General Board, the Indiana-Kentucky Resolution had obtained the required support of at least 200 churches in five regions.

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