Baptists censure gays, abortion Convention meeting in Silver Spring

November 11, 1992|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

SILVER SPRING -- Delegates representing 100,000 Southern Baptists in Maryland and Delaware passed strong resolutions yesterday condemning homosexuality and abortion.

In one of the resolutions, the delegates, called messengers, were responding to controversy over a Baptist Church ceremony this spring in North Carolina blessing a same-sex union.

As a result of that ceremony, the church where it occurred was removed from membership in the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Also in the background of yesterday's action by Maryland and Delaware Baptists was censure of another North Carolina congregation for licensing a homosexual minister.

The resolution on human sexuality, adopted nearly unanimously by 836 messengers meeting at the First Korean Baptist Church in Silver Spring, says, "Scripture condemns any abuse of sexuality, including premarital sex, adultery, rape, incest, pornography, promiscuity, prostitution and homosexuality."

It goes on to say that "these authoritative biblical guidelines are now under persistent and concerted attack by a culture that is distributing condoms in our schools, sanctioning the union of homosexuals and their ordination to ministry and the promotion of unions outside the sacred institution of marriage."

A resolution on "sanctity of human life," also adopted by a nearly unanimous vote, was partly a response to the passage of Question 6 -- the abortion referendum -- by Maryland voters on Nov. 3.

During the discussion of this motion, a church messenger from Baltimore criticized the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware for "giving only lip service" and "no money or leadership to the spiritual battle" to defeat Question 6.

As adopted, the resolution says, "Social acceptance of abortion on demand has begun to dull society's respect for all human life, leading to growing occurrences of infanti- cide, child abuse and active euthanasia."

The resolution also calls "upon all churches in our convention to take an active stand in support of the sanctity of all human life," and urges the churches "to prayerfully plan and conduct a meaningful 'sanctity of human life' emphasis at least annually."

Not all of the issues that came before the convention elicited that degree of agreement.

Before the two days of meetings adjourned, there was a vote to postpone indefinitely action on a resolution that had caused hours of heated debate.

As originally proposed, the resolution would have called on the Baptist Women's Missionary Union to refrain from renting to non-Christian religious groups the camp it operates in Harford County. The controversy arose because the facility, Camp Wo-Me-To, had been rented in the summer of 1991 to a Hindu organization.

At one point last night, church messengers voted 200 to 138 to reverse the intent of the resolution, urging the operators of the Baptist camp to "continue a policy of missionary inclusiveness."

Opinions on this question were so strongly held that the Rev. Bill Warren of Salisbury asked church messengers to "refrain from inflammatory language, please."

The vote to postpone action on the resolution indefinitely followed an appeal from the Rev. Robert Lilly, pastor of Catonsville Baptist Church.

"This issue . . . could split this convention right down the middle," he said. "It could cause more hurt, tear us up more. Folks, we don't need that." Mr. Lilly was a member of the committee that had drafted the original resolution.

Total attendance at the convention yesterday was 1,047. Of that number, 982 were messengers eligible to vote.

Before the church members gathered in Silver Spring for their deliberations, two of the state's Baptist leaders had circulated an open letter calling for more cooperation and less divisiveness.

"What transpires at the annual state convention too often focuses on political advantage instead of Christian cooperation," the letter said. It was signed by Mr. Warren, pastor of Allen Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury, and Walter Agnor, director of missions for the Southern Baptists' Eastern Association.

During the convention, the Rev. Otis Doherty, a pastor in Newark, Del., was elected president of the Maryland-Delaware organization. He defeated the Rev. Howard Edmonson of New Freedom, Pa.

Mr. Doherty was supported by the Southern Baptist moderates, while Mr. Edmonson received the backing of the more conservative wing of the church representatives.

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