Divisions over homosexuality that have embroiled several mainline Protestant denominations in the United States are now threatening to tear apart the American Baptist Churches USA, with leaders of hundreds of local churches announcing plans to secede from their national organization.
The denomination's Pacific Southwest Region released a statement Tuesday saying its board of directors had voted in favor of the split on Sept. 8 because the national organization had refused to declare homosexuality "incompatible with Christian Scripture."
The rift over homosexuality has also threatened the unity of other denominations, noted Susan Russell, the president of Integrity USA, an organization that supports full inclusion of LGBT people in the U.S Episcopal Church.
"I think it's sad and predictable that the same forces at work within the Episcopal, the Methodist and the Presbyterian churches to force polarization by scapegoating gays and lesbians are now going on within the American Baptist Church," she said.
Russell told the PlanetOut Network that a driving force behind this movement is an organization called The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).
The IRD makes no secret about its efforts to influence the United Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches and its belief that sexual relations are only appropriate between married heterosexuals. According to the group's Web site, "We help church members battle for renewal within their denominations." The group also pledges to work "to see that our churches fulfill their proper role in defending marriage" and warns against following the "secular agenda of the Left instead of the timeless message of Jesus Christ."
Baptists are too pro-gay?
PlanetOut Network is reporting that the American Baptist Churches USA (the more liberal brother to the better known and larger Southern Baptist Convention) may split over a divide on how to handle homosexuality. Apparently, while gays and lesbians consider Baptists to be summarily anti-gay, this denomination isn't as focused on conducting church-sponsored discrimination.