Saturday, October 01, 2005

PSW Website Addesses Key Questions About the PSW/ABC Rift

What was the resolution passed by the ABCPSW
on September 8, 2005?

The resolution states:

Because the deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest (ABCPSW) and the American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABCUSA) are understood by the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW as irreconcilable, the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW takes the following action effective September 9, 2005:

1. Initiate the process to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA. The Executive Committee of the ABCPSW will report to the ABCPSW Board of Directors regarding issues related to this action by December 8, 2005. Upon approval by the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW recommendations will be sent to the churches for a vote at a specially called meeting of the Region.

2. Authorize the Executive Committee of the ABCPSW to consult with necessary professionals regarding issues related to this action.

3. Withdraw from the Budget Covenant of the ABCUSA effective 12/31/05.

What is the status of the ABCPSW in regard to the ABCUSA at this time?

At this time the ABCPSW is still a full member of the Covenant of Relationships in the ABCUSA. We are also in full compliance with the Budget Covenant of the ABCUSA, which regulates the raising and distribution of mission giving within the denomination. This means that at least through the end of 2005, the ABCPSW will remain in full membership within the ABCUSA.

What is the Covenant of Relationships?

The Covenant of Relationships defines and directs interaction among the Regions and the National Boards of the ABCUSA, including the General Board, the Board of International Ministries, the Board of National Ministries and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board. The Budget Covenant is part of the Covenant of Relationships.

How should churches direct their mission giving to American Baptist related mission now?

As far as mission giving is concerned, nothing has changed. All mission giving should be reported on the mission remittance form supplied by the ABCPSW Church Resource Center and sent to the Church Resource Center for distribution. This will remain the same at least through the end of 2005.

Will churches still be able to support American Baptist missionaries, institutions and projects if the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships? How?

Churches will still be able to support American Baptist missionaries, institutions and projects. The ABCPSW is in discussion with the ABCUSA regarding how this will be done in the future.

Will churches have an opportunity to vote on whether to remain in the ABCUSA?

Yes. When the PSW Board receives the report of its Executive Committee on December 8 regarding issues related to withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships, the Board will determine whether to recommend action to the churches.

If the Board decides to proceed toward withdrawal, it will call a special Business Meeting of the ABCPSW, providing not less than 90 days notice of the meeting as well as a full report on the action proposed. At that meeting the churches of the Region will make the final decision on whether the Region will stay in Covenant with the ABCUSA.

Secondly, even if the churches vote to withdraw the Region's membership in the Covenant of Relationships, individual congregations remain members of the ABCUSA unless or until they vote themselves out of membership in accordance with their own bylaws.

Will churches be able to be members of both the ABCUSA and the ABCPSW if the Region
withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships?

Yes. This is called dual alignment and it is very common in the ABC. The details of how this may be done need to be finalized in conversations between the ABCPSW, the ABCUSA and other ABC Regions.

Is it true that if the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships that all
PSW ordinations will be valid only in local churches?

No. All PSW ordinations will remain valid throughout the ABCPSW. In addition, the Region is in discussions with other ABC Regions regarding understandings for cooperation in mission and ministry, including mutual recognition of ordination.

Why did the PSW Board select December 31 as the withdrawal date from the Budget Covenant?

This date was selected because it is the close of the Budget year. At the December 8 meeting the Region Board will review whether this date is the best time to withdraw from the Budget Covenant or whether it would be preferable to coincide this action with the withdrawal of the Region from the Covenant of Relationships.

It sounds like the recommendation made by the Board is not yet in cement. Is that true?

Yes. The Board voted to "Initiate the process to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA." There is much work, study and discussion to be done. As the Executive Committee works through the multiple layers of relationships among all the partners in the Covenant, it will provide more details.

Why did the ABCPSW Board initiate the process to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships with the ABCUSA? Is homosexuality the issue?

The Board cited deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest (ABCPSW) and the American Baptist Churches in the USA (ABCUSA) that are understood to be irreconcilable. Differences of opinion regarding the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior among American Baptists are part of the issue. But they are far from being the only issue.

Picture in your mind an iceberg. The portion of the iceberg above the water is much smaller than the portion beneath the surface. The deep differences between the PSW and the ABCUSA may be understood by writing the word "homosexual behavior" on the portion of the iceberg above the surface, and writing "Biblical Authority and Accountability" on the portion below the surface.

The ABCUSA has a resolution on homosexuality with which the ABCPSW agrees: "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." The problem with this resolution is that no implementation statements are attached to it. Therefore, while the statement describes the convictions of the majority of American Baptists, it has little or no effect on the actions of the denomination. Persons who are open about their homosexual practice are at times appointed to committees and commissions, and have served on governing boards of the denomination. This happens because the ABCUSA does not require or enforce any specific understanding of doctrine or Biblical understanding on ABC Regions or local congregations. This protects the autonomy of local congregations and the liberty of individual Baptists to interpret the Scriptures as they believe they are led by the Holy Spirit. But it also results in diversity regarding theological and moral convictions so great that American Baptists are often in conflict.

Aren't congregational autonomy and soul liberty core values for Baptists?

Congregational autonomy and soul liberty have always been important convictions for Baptists, but in the twentieth century these two values were lifted to a higher priority among American Baptists than in previous generations or among most other Baptist groups. The Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA), which is considered the ancestor of Baptist bodies in the United States, including American Baptists, had a lengthy confession of faith when it was founded. In order to insure the doctrinal integrity of its pastors and churches, the PBA required ordination candidates and congregations to comply with its confession. Most Baptist organizations and congregations before the twentieth century had such guidelines, and many still do today. American Baptists actually represent a minority voice among Baptists by insisting on absolutely no enforcement of doctrinal boundaries.

What's the problem with that?

The problem is that the breadth of diversity regarding theological and moral convictions among American Baptists is hindering the ABC from being as effective a mission organization as it might be. In the past 12 years, three consultants have told the ABCUSA General Board that the denomination cannot conduct a national fundraising drive for new church planting and other initiatives because it is too divided. People are reluctant to give generously to a mission organization when they do not know whether their donations will be used to support viewpoints or causes they find morally and Biblically objectionable.

How can this be solved?

This is where Biblical authority and accountability come in to the picture. The ABCUSA believes in Biblical authority, and has an outstanding statement about it in a paper called "We Are American Baptists." The problem is that there are no guidelines for accountability. Therefore, American Baptists enforce their Bylaws, Standing Rules and Covenants, but not the clear teaching of the Bible.

Can a group hold leaders and congregations accountable without getting legalistic?

We believe that in the ABCPSW we have a healthy balance of accountability and freedom. The Region affirms a "Confession of Our Common Faith" and a "Resolution on Human Sexuality and the Church." At the time of ordination or pastoral placement candidates are asked to affirm their agreement with these documents. According to the bylaws of the ABCPSW, member congregations are required "to share in the vision for ministry of the Region and be able to share in the Biblical focus on mission of our associated churches." The "Guiding Principles of the ABCPSW state:

With regard to the teaching, leadership, and membership of the Region, the Executive Minister shall not fail to uphold high standards of biblical teaching and morality, as described in, but not limited to, "ABCPSW Resolution on Human Sexuality and the Church," [and] "A Confession of Our Common Faith."

These policies to maintain unity of purpose in our Region are a source of strength and health for our congregations. There is no need to patrol our churches and pastors or insist on rigid or narrow doctrinal uniformity. Agreement with Regional guidelines has been voluntary and enthusiastic.

If the PSW withdraws from the ABCUSA will it enforce more rigid standards?

No. There is no plan or discussion about further standards. Present standards are sufficient.

Is it true that the ABCPSW Board has acted in conjunction with the American Baptist Evangelicals in its recommendation to withdraw from the ABCUSA Covenant?

No. Conspiracy theories are popular in today's world, but are most often wrong, including the assertion that the ABE was a factor in the Board's decision. Board members made their decisions for a variety of reasons, but the opinions and plans of the ABE was never part of the discussion.

Will the ABCPSW become a new denomination or part of another denomination?

Frankly, we do not see that far into the future. For the time being we are working to establish understandings and protocols with the ABCUSA and its related agencies to guide our future relationship.

What is the significance of the Parchment Valley Agreement?

Eight ABC-USA Executive Ministers from across the nation gathered at the West Virginia Baptist Conference Center at Parchment Valley. They forged an agreement that affirms historic covenantal relationships between Regions. This points to a future of renewed cooperation in mission, based on mutually held core values. The American Baptist Churches of: Michigan, Ohio, Indiana/Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania/Delaware, New Jersey, Maine and the Pacific Southwest were represented at this meeting. Together these Regions represent more than 2300 churches or 40% of ABC-USA congregations.
The agreement states:

Parchment Valley Agreement
September 22, 2005

We are an association of Executive Ministers committed to authentic covenantal relationships with one another in order that our Regions can cooperate in mission.

We commit ourselves to the following core values:

  • Biblical Authority
  • Associational Integrity & Accountability among Regions
  • Leadership Development
  • Equipping our churches to impact the world for Christ.

The eight executive ministers believe that others will join their fellowship and anticipate a bright future of ministry and mission together.


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