Summer is the time for conventions both political and religious, but so far it is the denominational gatherings which reveal long-range trends that may outlast the season.
As expected, at their June convention, Southern Baptists voted to withdraw from the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), the international pan-Baptist organization over its alleged theological liberalism and theological pluralism. The SBC battle waged between conservatives and moderates, with the former gaining control of the denomination, is now being extended on to an international stage. One reason for the SBC withdrawal from the BWA is that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group that broke away from the Southern Baptists over questions of biblical inerrancy and the role of women, was accepted as a member of the international organization.
The conservative ecumenical magazine Touchstone (June) portrays the development in the framework of the “realignment” taking place within Anglicanism. Thus, the SBC’s pullout will not necessarily lead to the isolation of the American denomination. In fact, there will be “renewed efforts at global cooperation” with “confessional Baptists across the world [who] are longing for cooperation with theologically like-minded Christians against the twin pressures of Western secularism and Islamic extremism,” writes Russell D. Moore.
World magazine (July 24) reports that the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the largest black church in the country with 2.5 million members, unanimously voted at its national convention not to allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages. Although blacks tend to be liberal politically and reliable supporters of the Democratic Party, the move to gay marriage has been criticized by both liberal and conservative African-Americans, particularly as gay activists have compared their drive for gay marriage to the civil rights movement.
The convention of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in mid July again revealed a denomination sharply divided between conservatives and “moderates,” but the re-election of president Gerald B. Kieschnick and the defeat of other conservative leaders may signal the reemergence of moderate leadership in the 2.5 million member body. Kieschnick drew controversy when he defended a pastor who offered prayers at an interfaith service at Yankee Stadium after 9/11, with critics charging that he violated denomination rules against praying with those of other faiths.
Most of the attention paid to the June conference of U.S. Roman Catholic bishops was over the matter of whether the prelates can deny pro-choice politicians communion. But an unnoticed and potentially more momentous decision concerns a statement calling on Catholic organizations and churches to boycott dissenting politicians.
The teaching, part of the bishops’ interim statement, Catholics in Political Life, argues that politicians who “act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles…should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Critics fear that, if broadly applied, such a statement could dampen the involvement of Catholics in community and public life, where cooperation and compromise with politicians is often necessary, reports Commonweal magazine (July 16).
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