Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Local Press Quotes Competing Sides in PSW Dispute

The Press-Enterprise, a local newspaper in the Inland Empire area of the PSW, went beyond the press release and cited pastors representing both sides of the debate.

Baptists could break away over homosexual issues
SPLIT: Delegates from across the region vote to withdraw from the national denomination.

10:00 PM PDT on Monday, May 1, 2006
By BETTYE WELLS MILLERThe Press-Enterprise

American Baptist pastors in the Inland area said Monday they are sad that disagreements over homosexuality and authority of scripture likely will result in the Pacific Southwest Region's withdrawal from American Baptist Churches in the USA.

Delegates from almost 300 churches in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii voted 1,125 to 209 on Saturday to back the regional board's proposal to withdraw from the denomination. The board will decide May 11 whether to split from the denomination, which is headquartered in Valley Forge, Penn.

First Baptist Church of Redlands will remain affiliated with the denomination, said the Rev. Joe DeRoulhac, senior pastor.

"We feel like the mission to which God has called us nationally and globally is greater than the differences between us," he said by phone.

"We believe as Baptists we are at our best when we work together where there is agreement and bless one another where we disagree. "

American Baptist churches are independent and autonomous, responsible for articulating their own doctrine.

The denomination has about 1.5 million members in 5,800 churches in the United States.

If the region votes to sever ties, individual churches may keep their affiliation with the denomination, local pastors said.

Riverside's First Baptist Church previously decided to withdraw from the denomination if the regional board votes to split, said the Rev. Joe Lutz, senior pastor.

"This is a culmination of the tension within our denomination for the last 20 years," said Lutz, an American Baptist pastor for 25 years. "The big issue basically is acceptance of biblical authority. ... The headline issue is homosexuality."

Lutz said his congregation, a diverse group of about 350 regular attendees, believes that the denomination's leaders have not taken seriously member concerns about the authority of scripture.

"As a church, we're not trying to persecute the gay community; we're not arguing against their civil rights," he said. "Our desire is that they would find the love of Christ and that Christ would come into their lives and help them."

DeRoulhac said the divisiveness of the culture is influencing churches.

"You look at the larger culture, and the culture is dividing," he said. "We talk about red and blue states now. You can talk about red and blue churches."

Lutz disagreed.

"This is a biblical issue," he said.

"We want to try as best we can to live by what we believe scripture teaches."

Some black churches are concerned that a conservative political agency may be driving move to separate, said the Rev. Paul Munford, pastor of New Joy Baptist Church in Riverside.

"Black churches are concerned that the legacy of American Baptist commitment to abolishing slavery not be forgotten because the church was there when others were not," Munford said by phone.

The denomination does not endorse homosexuality, he said.

"We preach the Bible. We are a Bible-based, Bible-believing church," he said. "We are not compromising on the issue of homosexuality. We are not going to throw out anybody in the church who is a homosexual. We don't agree with their activity."

The Rev. Dale V. Salico, executive minister of the Pacific Southwest Region, did not return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon.

A written statement on the region's Web site noted that the board of directors recommended withdrawal from the denomination last year because of "deep differences of theological convictions and values" between the region and the denomination.

In a statement on the denomination's Web site, the Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary, alluded to numerous splits among Baptist denominations of varying kinds throughout American history.

"Though not uncommon in Baptist life, such actions grieve the heart of God and our Lord Jesus Christ," he wrote.

Reach Bettye Wells Miller at (951) 368-9547 or

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