INDIANAPOLIS – The Southern Baptist Convention (search) voted Tuesday to quit the Baptist World Alliance (search) following complaints that some members of the loose, global association had adopted liberal theology and "anti-American" thinking.
The SBC is the world's largest Baptist denomination and America's largest Protestant body, with 16.3 million members. It helped launch the alliance 99 years ago and was a strong supporter before shifting toward strict conservatism a quarter-century ago.
The pullout, proposed by the SBC executive committee on the basis of a negative December task force report, was approved overwhelmingly by a show of hands.
The alliance, based in Falls Church, Va., is a federation of 46 million Baptists in 211 denominations. The SBC donated $425,000 to the world alliance last year, then cut that to $300,000 this year. The alliance's operating budget is $1.7 million.
"Our concern is not financial," said the Rev. Denton Lotz, general secretary of the world alliance. "Our concern is schism and division. Christians need to be a united voice."
The December report complained that some in the alliance had questioned "the truthfulness of Holy Scripture," refused to affirm the necessity of conscious faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, promoted women preachers, criticized the SBC and its foreign mission board and adopted an "anti-American" tone.
The last straw came in 2003, when the alliance accepted as a member the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (search), a rival group to the SBC formed by moderates who oppose denominational leaders' conservative policies.
Prior to Tuesday's vote, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said the SBC should not give money or endorsement to an organization that includes liberals.
He also complained that the American Baptist Churches, a U.S. denomination, includes "gay-friendly congregations," and that other members of the world alliance call the inerrancy of Scripture into question.
In other Tuesday business, thousands of attendees were to elect a new SBC president; the only announced candidate is the Rev. Bobby Welch of Daytona Beach, Fla. They also expected to hear a video greeting from President Bush. And an evening program will urge Baptists to promote voter registration and work against gay marriage.