Friday, January 13, 2006

Mainline Mess: ABC Fracture Impending and Certain This Year Says Veteran Religion Writer

Few religion writers have the stature or experience of Ed Plowman. Many of the readers of "His Barking Dog" will remember his years of reporting for "Christianity Today." Now, in a "World Magazine" piece, he offers his observations on the impending implosions in several mainline denominations, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, and the ABCUSA.


American Baptist Churches (U.S.A.) will fracture. The 1.5-million-member denomination, based in Valley Forge, Pa., has a strong position on homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture. But its liberal-dominated governing board has blocked all efforts to enforce the policy on member churches on grounds Baptist churches are autonomous, don't have creeds, and have the right to interpret the Bible as they wish. The board also has allowed gay-approving churches to transfer from predominantly conservative regional units to gay-friendly ones in a different geographic area.

The ABC's Southern California--based Pacific Southwest region, with 300 mostly conservative churches in three states, is scheduled to vote in April on whether to proceed with plans to pull out of the denomination. Several other regions are poised to do likewise if the board continues to balk at discipline of congregations. The financially strapped ABC would be hard-pressed to survive. It already has cut staff to bare bones, and it rents out most of its headquarters to private firms. A large chunk of its membership is dually aligned with black denominations or the pro-gay United Church of Christ, and this shows in financial loyalties.

The Northern California--based American Baptist Churches of the West, which has kicked out several pro-gay churches from membership, changed its name as of Jan. 1. The region's new name is Growing Healthy Churches—"a move to reflect more accurately who we are as well as losing any negative baggage that may be detrimental to the accomplishment of a mission," said executive minister Paul Borden.

Leaders of American Baptist Evangelicals, organized as a renewal group in 1982, recently declared the ABC is beyond renewal. They voted to become a support group for whatever new entity emerges from the ruins of Valley Forge this year.

Copyright 2006 WORLD Magazine, January 14, 2006, Vol. 21, No. 2

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