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Baptist convention ends with discord over gays

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- The convention of American Baptist Churches USA ended with discord caused by the decision to cast out four churches for their pro-homosexual leanings.

Even in worship, the strife in the denomination was evident Friday. Following the program's opening procession of local, regional and denominational leaders, protesters entered the arena at Veterans Memorial Auditorium.As a 200-voice choir and the assembly sang, marchers held high four crosses, representing the four California churches severed from the denomination last week for "welcoming and affirming" gays and lesbians.

Carrying banners and ribbons and holding aloft stones, about 200 members and supporters of the exiled congregations walked to the front of the arena, then filled the center aisle.

After the song ended, the marchers quietly left or returned to their seats, to delayed and scattered applause.

The American Baptist Churches USA board's votes expelling the churches were held last weekend just before the denomination's biennial nationwide meeting began.

Expelled in separate votes were Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland, First Baptist Church of Berkeley, New Community of Faith in San Jose and San Leandro Community Church in San Leandro.

Supporters of the decision to banish the churches said the denomination had to uphold its view on authority of the Bible and homosexual practice as sinful.

Others called for peace.

"I would like to believe that we could all humbly seek Jesus' face together," said the Rev. David Frey of Iowa City.

The Baptist body is one of more than 20 in the United States and has about 1.5 million members.