Monday, December 05, 2005

Cleveland, Part II

Here's more of that exchange from on "The Politics of a PSW delay", as promised...

...I am the Interim Executive Minister for the Cleveland Baptist Association. I did attend the most recent meeting of the GEC in Green Lake in November. I did not attend the April 2005 San Antonio meeting of the GEC, as I was not yet then serving as Interim Executive Minister. I do not claim to fully understand the organizational structure of the GEC and its operational policies. I was disappointed in the results of the San Antonio meeting and the inability or unwillingness to develop some minimal implementation guidelines for our national resolution on homosexual practice. I do think this is properly the responsibility of the GEC...and I believe that this matter can and should be revisited within the GEC.

As to my earlier statement that the recent GEC actions related to seeking to retain the membership of the ABCPSW within the ABC/USA, perhaps it would have been more accurate if I had said they were not initiated by "Valley Forge leaders" or by the Office of the General Secretary or the corporate executive staff of the national boards. (These are the folks who seem to have drawn the greatest ire and suspicion about their actions and their motivations.) These proposals were initiated by a number of regional representatives who are very sympathetic with the concerns of ABCPSW, consider themselves friends of the ABCPSW, and earnestly want to see this region, its churches, and its people remain within the ABC/USA. My primary point was to say they were not initated by people who are hostile to ABCPSW or who are seeking to use these proposals as a way of doing any harm or hurt to the region.

Dennis [McFadden], I understand your comment, that even if not intended for this purpose a delay in ABCPSW's intended action could provide additional opportunity for whomever is so inclined to seek to convince individuals or churches within ABCPSW to oppose the withdrawal from the denomination. However, if this withdrawal cannot stand on its own merits and be validated by a more extended period of examination, then perhaps it should not be acted upon this quickly in the first place. A number of local church constitutions with which I am familiar require such steps as a long waiting period (in some cases up to one year), a super-majority (2/3 or 3/4 vote), and an expressed opportunity for a representative of the ABC/USA or the regional affiliate to speak to a congregation, before a vote to sever affiliation with the denomination can be taken. Surely, the withdrawal of an entire region from the ABC/USA (which has never even been on the table before in the 98-year history of the denomination) ought to proceed with the same kind of deliberation and care. I realize that nothing in the present ABC/USA Covenant of Relationships requires these steps, I am just suggesting they are prudent and wise. It is much more difficult to put something back together once it is broken than it is to take a little extra time to prevent a fracture in the first place...

Dennis, with respect to your comment about Dale Salico, I just wanted to state that although I did hear some remarks during the course of the meetings in Green Lake that I considered unfair and inappropriate with respect to Dale, the overwhelming majority of the public statements I heard made either about or directed to Dale, even by those who did not necessarily agree with his position(s), were affirming and positive with respect to his character and his leadership. This is certainly my perspective and I am deeply grateful for his presence and participation in this series of denominational meetings, even with the possibility of ABCPSW's withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships looming in the background.

It is extremely unfortunate that the current division with the ABC/USA has reached the level of frustration and polarization that it has. On all sides of the issue of how to honestly, fairly, completely and compassionately implement ABC's statements related to sexual integrity within historic Baptist free church polity, too much of the rhetoric has become dismissive, contemptuous, and sarcastic. Individual Christian leaders, including Dr. Salico on the one hand and Dr. Medley on the other hand, have sometimes been ridiculed and demonized in a manner that makes me terribly uncomfortable. I must believe, and I continue to believe, that we can discuss and debate, even passionately, strongly-held convictions with one another without resorting ways of speaking about each other, about brothers and sisters in Christ, that are not in keeping with biblical standards nor congruent with a genuine presence of "the mind of Christ" in us.

As regards the suggestion that the desire to retain ABC/PSW is all about dollars, I just don't think this is the major concern of most. As it is now, within the revised ABC/USA Budget Covenant, individuals and churches are free to pretty much target or direct their gifts and contributions to those ABC/USA entities and ministries they endorse and to withhold them from those they don't. Even if ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships, ABCPSW individuals and churches will be free to support those ABC/USA entities and ministries they find compatible and effective, and I feel certain that in many cases they will, so I don't really look at a change in dollar flow as the main concern. What I am most interested in is keeping ABCPSW within the fellowship, the witness, the representation, the leadership, and the governance functions of the denomination, and these will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to achieve if there is a withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships.

I hope that ABCPSW folk will recognize that there are a lot of people in many different regions throughout the ABC/USA that share your concerns and are working, perhaps more diligently and cooperatively than in the past, to see them addressed. A number of regions have formal studies underway designed, at least in part, to determine if they can still comfortably be related to the ABC/USA as it presently is functioning, and, if not, what changes would be required in their estimation. ABCPSW has become the first to put their position officially before the denomination. But does ABCPSW really need to act independently and unilaterally right now to sever all relationships, not only with the national denomination but also with its many regional friends and partners as well, or would it not be better to suspend the withdrawal action at this time and wait to see what emerges out of IN/KY, WV, MI, and a number of other regions over the course of the next year or so? The composite weight of multiple declarations of concern out of different geographical areas of the country might have a much more significant effect than can be envisioned at this point in time.

Twice before in the history of the ABC/USA, significant numbers of individuals and churches left the denomination seeking to create a purer and more homogenious biblical and theological climate and culture. Without disparaging these folks and their intentions in any way, the result was, in each case, multiple weaker bodies, less able to fulfill the mission God had for them, plus continuing resentments and recriminations among the parties that have in some cases carried on to this day. As a someone who has been an American Baptist since birth (58 years), I sincerely hope and pray that we will not see a repeat of this process in my lifetime.

Thank you for the opportunity to share in this forum.

Jim Oldham

Dennis McFadden replies:


Thanks for your thorough and thoughtful responses. As they say, though, the devil is in the details.

The San Antonio meetings were determinative and decisive. To say that you were not there but that things look encouraging now would be like asking Mrs. Lincoln: "Other than 'that,' how did you like the play?" Dr. Salico made a VERY thorough case to the covenant partners in the GEC. It has been widely distributed and studied. He could not summon support for ANY of the proposals for which he advocated, even though he was clear regarding the consequences for continued PSW participation in the Covenant of Relationships if something meaningful did not flow from the meeting.
The events in the Biennial struck most of us on the right as a declaration of war on evangelicals. Tell me honestly that the Bill Herzog address to the Roger Williams Fellowship (and cheered by numerous VF leaders) was not an abusive attack on all evangelicals by implication and even naming some names.

It seems to me that when it is convenient, VF is quite capable of declaring in absolutist terms what is "Biblical," "moral," "right," and "consistent with the Gospel" even when large numbers of actual American Baptists disagree with the point. However, on an issue where we have supposedly voted and decided (overwhelmingly I might add), Dr. Medley continues to couch, accommodate, explain away, relativize, and temporize his words. Show me even one instance where he has boldly declared the traditional view to be biblical WITHOUT in the same speech, editorial, or article going out of his way to affirm the other side as well. He doesn't do that on other controversial issues where American Baptists are divided.

Calls to continue "dialog" would have been appropriate and sounded legitimate had they not been prefaced with decades of stonewalling on this subject and persistent rejection of the efforts of our representatives to mediate a compromise.

No, I do not believe that the motivations are fiscal -- by any of the parties. VF has always (at least during my 52 years) adopted a remnant theology that finds honor in upholding unpopular causes as ethically and theologically superior regardless of the consequences. Losing the PSW does more to offend the honor of VF than its pocketbook.

BTW - I was a "stay and fixit" guy until this year. But, the repeated rejection of even the most tepid of measures left me despairing that ANY hope remains. Jim, my opinions may be strong, but my credentials for working WITHIN the system are equally serious. A lifelong American Baptist, ten years on the MC Senate; almost a half dozen years on the Ministerial Leadership Commission (including nearly a half dozen on the executive committee), a quarter century on the standing regional ordination committee for PSW (including a dozen years as chair), a 500+ dissertation on ABC leadership with an enormous statistical study of the largest sample of ABC pastors ever conducted, and now serving as CEO of an ABC related institution with a nearly $13 million budget. These are not the hallmarks of a flake. My blood flows in institutional veins. But, sadly, enough is enough!

...Jim, I resonate with your pleas and your arguments. They echo my own words of past years. But, having seen the response the GEC made in San Antonio, "continuing dialog" is irrational.

We have two mindsets of what a real Baptist is all about: one group holding to sola scriptura as the organizing distinctive, the other clinging to a view of Christian experience (dating from 1905 and E.Y. Mullins) as the ultimate value. Unless Roy has a major change of heart, he will not be able to lead us through this thicket. His own wife rendered testimony before her denomination's equivalent of the GB five years ago. She argued strongly for a view quite similar to our own AWAB positions. I would not expect any man to repudiate the position of the mother of his children in order to make a few conservatives happy. Roy is a kind and gentle man. He does not deserve to be slandered. But, neither can I support him in good conscience.

Thanks again for caring enough to interact with this message board.
Dennis E. McFadden

Pastor Chuck Layne (no relation!) of Bunker Hill First Baptist of Indiana:

...With all due respect, exactly how much more time is supposed to be devoted to this issue of Biblical authority vs. denominational authority? I have been active in ABC ministry as an ordained clergy for 19 years now (part of that time as an active duty military Chaplain), and I have seen these issues grow from their near-bginning rumbles to the crisis before us now.

Throughout this time, the most frustrating and angering component for "evangelicals" within the denomination has been, and remains, significant leadership who constantly and consistently place the blame for disunity on our backs. Biennial address after address have been little more than tongue-lashing criticism directed at this denomination's "evangelicals."

For me, the pinnacle of hypocrisy came when a Focus on the Family episode named the ABCUSA as one of the denominations harboring the homosexual agenda and then having our OGS send out damage control letters telling us how poorly informed and unfair Dr. Dobson was to the ABCUSA by including us in his list. This letter also informed all of us that we really do have a resolution in place that states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, when we all know very well what weight (none) that has carried all these years with our national leadership.

Only when concrete, positive, drastic action has been taken by an entire Region has our leadership begun to sit up and take notice. But what do they give us? More of the same! More calls to study, dialogue, form commissions, hire consultants... They decry that the ABCPSW is "moving too fast." How many decades must it take before it can be considered not "too fast?"
Seems to me that certain criteria was beginning to be made known prior to the last Biennial and, as before, it was ignored. Even the IN/KY proposal has been mistreated and mishandled at the national level as they tell the Region one thing about its legal standing and then spring a completely different judgement at the GB meeting.

Is there little wonder that denominational "evangelicals" perceive Valley Forge responses to be nothing more than stalling tactics not worthy of consideration?
Chuck Layne

Finally, from "the other Glenn", Glenn Wade of North Park Baptist of San Diego...

The appeals for the PSW to take more time sound exactly like an violently abusive husband in my church repeatedly pleading for his wife to come back home after he beat her up. He kept claiming it would change. She kept going back. It didn't change. Ever.

When Jesus saw the condition of the temple and those changing money and selling sacrifices, he did not call for a committee to dialog and study the situation. He made a whip. And used it.

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