When Southern Baptists gathered last month in Indianapolis, they expected little controversy and found even less. After a 13-year struggle over biblical inerrancy and control of the denomination, conservatives strengthened their hold on the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Moderates, many of whom had assembled in Fort Worth the month before for the annual meeting of the year-old Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), were conspicuous by their absence.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) acted to exclude from its membership churches that condone homosexual practice. Two measures on homosexuality came in response to recent actions by two North Carolina congregations: Binkley Memorial Baptist in Chapel Hill, which had approved the ordination of an openly gay seminarian, and Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh, which approved the blessing of the union of two homosexuals.

Declaring the actions “contrary to the teachings of the Bible,” the resolution stated that these churches were not in “friendly cooperation” with the convention and, therefore, excluded from its fellowship. A second measure amends the SBC constitution to define churches not in “friendly cooperation” as those that act “to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” The constitutional change will require approval by the 1993 convention.

The action is the first ever taken to exclude churches because of doctrinal or moral matters. Critics view it as a threat to historic congregational autonomy. The only previous conditions for SBC membership required churches to be a “bona fide contributor to the Convention’s work” and “sympathetic with its purposes and work.”

Other resolutions passed by the 18,000 messengers oppose distribution of condoms in public schools, ...

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