After mere months on job, Riverside pastor resigns

NEW YORK (ABP) -- A Baptist minister and former Wake Forest Divinity School professor has resigned just nine months after becoming senior pastor of New York's Riverside Church , a historic congregation identified with the 20th-century Social Gospel movement that downplayed individual piety while emphasizing justice issues like poverty and civil rights.

NEW YORK (ABP) -- A Baptist minister and former Wake Forest Divinity School professor has resigned just nine months after becoming senior pastor of New York's Riverside Church , a historic congregation identified with the 20th-century Social Gospel movement that downplayed individual piety while emphasizing justice issues like poverty and civil rights.

According to the New York Times, Pastor Brad Braxton was the focus of intense infighting over his large compensation package and the mission of the church. Its previous pastors included the great preachers and social-justice activists Harry Emerson Fosdick and William Sloane Coffin.

Braxton, 40, said in a letter to the congregation he was stepping aside to allow the church to work through issues such as solidifying its identity and deciding exactly what kind of pastor it wants leading it and its many affiliated ministries.

Jean Schmidt, chair of Riverside's church council, said Braxton's decision "illuminated the need for our Church community to gain clarity on our shared mission" and for "deep soul-searching and conversations that will allow us to move forward as a stronger, more unified congregation."

Braxton moved to the church in September after four years as associate professor of homiletics and New Testament at Vanderbilt University Divinity School.

Before that Braxton, an African American and former Rhodes Scholar, taught at Wake Forest, a traditionally Baptist school formerly affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Braxton succeeded James Forbes, who retired after 18 years at age 70 amid criticism over his leadership by some church members.

The Times said church leaders had hoped Braxton, who calls himself a "progressive evangelical," would bridge differences between older white members rooted in the struggles of the civil-rights and Vietnam eras and less-politicized younger African-American members. Their ranks swelled at Riverside under Forbes while many older white memers left, and blacks now comprise about 60 percent of the church's membership.

The church, started with Baptist roots and financial backing by John D. Rockefeller, is now dually aligned with the United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches USA.

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Riverside Church taps Braxton, former Wake prof, as new pastor