Thursday, June 01, 2006

Cracked Foundation? Coming Apart at the Seams? Veteran Reporter Characterizes PSW Split

Veteran religion reporter Edward Plowman, writing in World Magazine, spares no rhetoric in characterizing the recent vote by the PSW board to withdraw from the ABCUSA Covenant of Relationships. Read some of his unsparing commentary . . .

The nation's oldest mainline Baptist denomination is coming apart at the seams. Already struggling under severe financial strains and widespread apathy at the local level, the 1.4-million-member American Baptist Churches U.S.A. took it on the chin again last month. The governing board of one of its largest and most thriving regional units, the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest, voted unanimously to withdraw from the ABCUSA . . .

At issue: matters of doctrine and church discipline—especially, the unwillingness of ABCUSA leaders to enforce the denomination's position that gay sex is incompatible with Christian teaching. The leaders say they cannot take action against gay-friendly churches because Baptist churches are autonomous and creedless and have the right to interpret the Bible as they wish . . .

The southwestern unit's new name is Transformation Ministries. Its leaders indicated that emphasis will be on faithfulness to Scripture, strong churches, and evangelism. It is expected to attract other disaffected evangelical-led ABCUSA churches from other regions across the country.

The loyalty of other regions is in question. West Virginia, with nearly 10 percent of the ABCUSA's 5,400 congregations, narrowly rejected a proposal to withdraw last year, and may vote again. The Indiana-Kentucky region is pushing for a change in by-laws that would enforce discipline on gay-friendly churches. Michigan will consider withdrawal next year if there is no disciplinary action by the national denomination.

The American Baptist Churches of the West, representing 215 congregations in northern California and Nevada, has a track record of expelling gay-friendly congregations. Led at the top by evangelicals, it recently changed its name to Growing Healthy Churches, in part to avoid bad connotations of American Baptist identity.

The American Baptist Evangelicals renewal group, reportedly representing some 500 churches, recently announced that there is no hope left for Bible-based renewal of the ABCUSA; leaders disbanded it and reorganized under a new name, Cornerstone Church Network. [emphasis mine]

Plowman has been a reliable observer of American Christianity for several decades. As a seasoned and carefuly nuanced professional, his track record for accuracy has been enviable among reporters handling the "religion beat." It will be fascinating to follow this story over the next few years.

[His Barking Dog claims none of Plowman's prescience nor connection to anybody or anything important, official, or balanced. My barking is absolutely unaffiliated and unplugged.]

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