Homosexuality and dissatisfaction with American Baptists—two reasons given last week for the Southern Baptist Convention to pull out of the Baptist World Alliance—were never mentioned in discussions between SBC and BWA leaders leading up to the break, according to a former official of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.

John Sundquist, former executive director of American Baptist International Ministries, sat on the BWA membership committee, which last year voted to accept the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into membership. Southern Baptist leaders opposed the decision, and many observers say it is the real reason for severing ties.

Criticism of the withdrawal, which had been anticipated since December, was renewed after seminary president Paige Patterson, a member of the SBC/BWA study committee recommending the action, said last Tuesday a previously unstated reason for pulling out was that the BWA includes members that tolerate gay-friendly churches, such as American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.

“We can no longer afford in this particular day, when the press for gay marriage is on, to be in alliance with denominations that support in any form or fashion gay marriage,” said Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “What you give your money and name to, you give tacit approval to.”

Patterson’s statement caught officials of both the BWA and ABC/USA off guard. SBC leaders had previously used different rationale, including allegations of a liberal drift, anti-American feelings and advocacy for women to serve as pastors of local churches.

“In all of the meetings of the membership committee, in all the correspondence between the committees and in all of the discussions within the BWA General Council, never once have American Baptists or the issue of homosexuality been mentioned as a reason for the SBC’s unhappiness with the BWA,” Sundquist said in American Baptist News Service.

Denton Lotz, BWA general secretary, said he was “shocked” when Patterson brought up the gay issue, “which had never been on the table before.”

“To combine that with the question of gay marriage is really an insult to the rest of the Baptists of the world and particularly to American Baptists,” Lotz said.

BWA leaders issued a statement Monday countering criticism in the SBC report and accusing leaders of “slander.”

Lotz told the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal he was disappointed with Southern Baptists’ pullout because the BWA never ousted the convention when Southern Baptists practiced racial discrimination. Visiting BWA officials in the past were barred from whites-only restaurants in the United States.

While American Baptists have struggled with the issue of how to minister to gays, the denomination’s official stance is that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

A Southern Baptist leader, however, told the Courier-Journal that if American Baptists were seriously opposed to same-sex marriage they would throw out gay-friendly congregations.

The denomination “may have an official policy to which they would point,” said Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “but they evidently do not intend to police that policy.”

The executive director of the second-largest SBC-affiliated state convention, meanwhile, criticized Southern Baptists’ decision to end ties to the BWA as “ill-timed and ill-informed.”

Jim Royston, executive director of the 1.2-million-member Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, called pulling out a “pretty rotten way” for a founding member to say “happy birthday” to the BWA, which celebrates its centennial next year.

Royston said in a statement that BWA critics consider the alliance a denomination, which it isn’t. “It’s a voluntary association of 211 Baptist bodies with as many as 21 confessions or statements of faith,” he said.

Royston said the BWA helps North Carolina Baptists in partnership missions in many parts of the world. “Because of the BWA, we have been able to enter missions partnerships in countries where no SBC or CBF missionaries are currently stationed,” he said.

In addition to the $300,000 it will receive this year from the Southern Baptist Convention—support that runs out in October—the BWA last year received more than $22,000 through the North Carolina Baptist budget, Royston said.

The gay-rights group Soulforce, which picketed the SBC annual meeting for the 5th straight year, said on its Web site that the convention “continues to be a primary source of spiritual violence” against homosexuals.

“I know God loves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people just the way we are, and some day full equality will happen, and the church will have to apologize to us,” said Karen Weldin, a former Southern Baptist and graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University who works for Soulforce as director of operations.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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