Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I would commend to my readers today's posting from Dennis McFadden's His Barking Dog. I've been to busy to write much of anything, but Dennis nails the dilemma: until the recent General Board Meeting in which the Indiana Inititive was adopted (or at least a third of it), it was Meltdown Central for the ABCUSA. The circles I run in are still pretty much in the "get on with it" category.
I'm concerned a delay will result in peeling off some of our best churches in a piecemeal fashion and will be widely interpreted as a capitulation to Valley Forge. If I were on the Board, I would advocate moving forward with separation because I am convinced that anything else will be interpreted as capitulation to a denominational apparatus that has not reformed, is counterproductive from a missional standpoint (especially National Ministries, who seems to be pretty much running things these days) and the reality is that the values of Valley Forge and the values of the PSW (and a majority of the ABC) remain incompatible.
If at some future point we see genuine reform in the ABCUSA, then we can reasses. But without separation, will Valley Forge really reform? Or will they go back to their own old habits? Separation may be the best thing that could happen to us all.
PSW and the Politics of Delay
An Opinion Piece by Dennis E. McFadden
Most people realize by now that the vote this past September was not for the PSW to “withdraw” from the ABCUSA, but to initiate the process of withdrawal. On Thursday, December 8, the Board of the ABCPSW will meet to decide whether or not to recommend separation from the ABCUSA and if so to schedule a vote of the churches on the matter. Right? Well, not exactly. During the round of meetings earlier this month in Green Lake, the General Executive Council took three actions. First, they voted to express in writing a desire for PSW to remain in the Covenant of Relationships (i.e., stay in the denomination). Second, they appointed a group of people to craft and implement an intervention strategy to implore PSW to reconsider and then to report back to the GEC in April of 2006. Third, they admitted that the “confluence of events” is “symptomatic of a need for a comprehensive reevaluation of the very character of what it means to be a denomination in this day.” What does that mean? Well, for one, it could cause PSW to decide to delay their decision. After all, who would be so churlish and mean-spirited as to reject a sister or brother’s heart-felt plea for reconciliation and for more time to consider if a way can be found leading to peace and unity? Since it would be almost impossible for the newly tasked group to organize, “craft and implement an intervention strategy” and schedule flights to PSW before next Thursday, should the board accede to this request, it will doubtless push back the timetable. Since the PSW rules call for a 90 day notice for a meeting of the region, this would inevitably buy time for the ABCUSA to continue using their influence on congregations to induce them to pull away from the PSW plan. We have already seen much evidence that this is exactly what is happening. Valley Forge leaders, particularly those in National Ministries have been telephoning, e-mailing, and making cross-country trips to PSW to meet with several of the ethnic caucuses. My sources tell me that both the African-American and Hispanic churches are receiving enormous pressure from National Ministries to stay with the “family,” rejecting the anticipated PSW separation. John Sundquist has been on a tour of the top giving churches in the country to sound them out on the issue of withdrawal and to shore up support for denominational unity. Hispanic representatives report that they feel a need for more time to process the issue and to consider the “other side” and its arguments. They have put pressure on Dr. Salico to do everything in his power to delay a vote until the Hispanic congregations feel better about the timing of a decision. Meanwhile pastors from several of the larger, predominately white churches, report rising frustration on the part of their lay leadership. Having heard of the board’s initial action in September, many do not understand “what is taking so long.” A delay at this point will look more like weakness and indecision on the part of PSW than a courteous nod to the request of fellow believers or as an opportunity to gather information necessary before a recommendation may be made. An additional side effect is the stultifying impact it will likely have on moving forward with the implementation of the long awaited new vision for the region. Plans had been announced to roll out the “transformation” vision during the summer and fall of 2005 and to follow up with mentoring, coaching, and teaching components.
Conventional wisdom among most church consultants says that a deep organizational crisis trumps everything else you may want to initiate or accomplish. It would be foolish to begin the vision implementation in earnest until after the denominational relationship issue has been determined. Delays in the final meeting of congregations will produce a cascading affect upon other vital regional programs, further reinforcing what will then appear to be an image of indecision and ineptitude. Ironically, a refusal on December 8 to give a clear and decisive recommendation to the churches will frustrate a number of the congregations and result in sending a signal to other regions that PSW does not have the will to follow through on its bold words of September. Rather than leading the evangelical wing of the discontented American Baptists, PSW may actually contribute to a strengthening, albeit temporarily, of Valley Forge’s hand. Clearly the person with the most difficult position in all of this is the ever-faithful soldier, Dr. Salico. After getting “beaten up” in the last round of denominational meetings in Green Lake, he has a number of critical choices to make. He is being squeezed by proponents of separation, including some of his own staff, to "shake the dust off his sandals and get it all over with" at the same time that some of his ethnic pastors are pleading for more time for processing the decision. Based upon my experience with Dale, I predict he will acquit himself splendidly. If John Kennedy were around today, I know who I would nominate for a new chapter in his book, Profiles in Courage: Dr. Dale Salico.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
A Lighthouse for the Great Ships of Zion
By Rev. Mark H. Creech
November 28, 2005
(AgapePress) - Along the shoreline of North Carolina, from Bald Head Island in the south to Currituck in the north, lighthouses are beacons of hope and life to protect great ships from the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." When extreme danger is imminent, these lighthouses illuminate the way.
Recently, the State Baptist Convention of North Carolina, the largest religious organization in the state and the second largest in the nation, voted overwhelmingly at its annual convention to ask its board of directors to come up with a written policy that would purge from North Carolina Baptists' ranks any member church that "knowingly affirms, approves or endorses homosexual behavior." Such churches would not be considered "in friendly cooperation with the convention and sympathetic to its purposes and work."
Some delegates expressed opposition to the motion. According to the Greensboro News and Record, Rob Helton, a messenger from Cherry Point Baptist Church in Havelock, argued: "Could it be that homosexuality gains our attention primarily because it's not 'our' sin? If we write a policy [on homosexuality], it seems only fair and right that we write a policy on every sin in the Bible." Jo Godfrey, a delegate from Emerywood Baptist Church in High Point, said the measure failed to show respect for the autonomy of Baptist churches.
Although such statements are reflective of some within the State Baptist Convention, they represent only a small minority. Furthermore, these remarks demonstrate a profound lack of understanding concerning the serious hazard posed for churches that would embrace the homosexual lifestyle.
Few sins in the Bible are described with the same harshness or urgency of language as homosexuality. Genesis 18:20 refers to it as a sin that cries out to God in heaven. Leviticus 18:22 says it is an "abomination." Romans 1:26-27 describes it as "unnatural." I Corinthians 6:19-20 declares that those who practice it will be barred from heaven. In other words, the consequences of homosexual behavior can be considerably more grievous than some other sins. Homosexuality is unique in that it is especially abhorrent to God and constitutes a significantly perverse and wicked lifestyle that clearly shows that one is far removed from Him.
Few sins have done more of late to wreak havoc among God's people as homosexuality. Mainline churches are being pulled apart over attempts by homosexual activists to redefine biblical sexual morality. Battles are currently be fought in the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, American Baptists, United Methodists, Presbyterian Church (USA), and other denominations. Interestingly, mainline churches that have taken a bold stand against liberal doctrine and the acceptance of homosexual sin are growing by leaps and bounds (Assemblies of God +377.1%, Southern Baptists +52.6%, Roman Catholics +45.4%). Great denominations, however -- like the ones previously mentioned -- are significantly diminishing in memberships because of their liberal bent (Episcopalians -35.8%, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -12.3%, Presbyterian Church (USA) -43.5%, American Baptists -6.9%, United Methodists -25.4%).
Moreover, few sins today threaten religious freedom as does homosexuality. In his book Marriage Under Fire, Dr. James Dobson notes how homosexual activism is jeopardizing one's right to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience. He writes:
"Canada is leading the way on this revolutionary path. I could cite dozens of examples indicating that religious freedom in that country is dying. Indeed, on April 28, 2004, the Parliament passed Bill C-250, which effectively criminalized speech or writings that criticize homosexuality. Anything deemed to be 'homophobic' is punishable by six months in prison or other severe penalties. Pastors and priests in Canada are wondering if they can preach from Leviticus or Romans 1 or other passages from the apostle Paul. Will a new Bible be mandated that is bereft of 'hate speech'? Consider this: A man who owned a printing press in Canada was fined over $40,000 for refusing to print stationary for a homosexual activist organization. Censorship is already in full swing .... Is that kind of censorship coming to the United States? Yes, I believe it is. Once homosexual marriage is legalized nationwide ... laws based on 'equality' will bring many changes in the law. Furthermore, it is likely that non-profit organizations that refuse to hire homosexuals on religious grounds will lose their tax exemptions. Some Christian colleges and universities are already worrying about that possibility."
Autonomy of the local church has always been a sacred cow with Southern Baptists. But the doctrine was never meant to convey that Baptists could believe and practice whatever they wanted. What it means is that Baptists are free to believe and exercise what they ought.
North Carolina Baptists have essentially agreed that no member church should ever show sympathy to the homosexual agenda. In taking this courageous stand, Southern Baptists in the Tar Heel State have become a lighthouse illuminating the way for the great denominational ships of Zion in imminent danger of sinking in the "Graveyard of the Apostates."
Rev. Mark H. Creech (email@example.com) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
Here are some names being considered by the PSW region for its new name, presumably in its post-ABC era:
PSW Network of Transforming Baptists
PSW Baptist Association
Transformation America...PSW Baptist Churches
World Impact Churches
Vision Baptist Churches
Source: an email from the PSW office.
Monday, November 28, 2005
This was posted today on ABC Views from the Middle, the blog of ABC execs Dwight Stinnett of the Great Rivers Region (IL and MO) and Susan Gillies of ABC Nebraska. Bolds have been added. The entry is written from Stinnett to Gillies. I have often thought that they have a jaundiced view of where the middle is, but this is thoughtful and almost painful to read. I do disagree with Dr. Stinnett about the appropriateness of the IND/KY addition. That's where truth's under attack, so that's where a stand is needed. It is also refreshing to see a "centrist" Exec being honest about the depth of the crisis the ABC is facing. According to the Valley Forge team, things are just fine. At least in flyover country, they have some horse sense.
Board and GEC Recap
Susan – I am sorry for my absence. No doubt you are frustrated by my silence because we promised one another to do this together. There are probably plenty of other things about me that you find frustrating. I want you to know that I do not take you for granted. I wish everyone had experienced your caring compassion in the same ways that I have.
Since there has been a little “distance” since the General Board and GEC meetings, I will venture to speak to those—even if it may not be appropriate.
I don’t think it is any secret that the Indiana-Kentucky Region (INKY) presented a petition to the General Board in June. It was a complex proposal that was appropriately introduced and duly received its first reading. As is the usual course of such proposals, it was worked on during the Summer and received its second reading at the November General Board meeting. As a result, the document “We Are American Baptists” was amended, adding the following line to the section “A Biblical People:”
Who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God’s design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.
In one sense, there is nothing new here. Essentially the content of the ABCUSA Policy Statement on Family Life (7036:6/84) and the ABCUSA Resolution on Homosexuality (8200:10/92) were added to the document that the General Board had previously adopted as “an expression of Christian faith representative of American Baptists.”
In another sense, it is new to see something like this in our statement of faith.I confess that I have mixed feelings about it. I agree with both the “Statement on Family Life” and the “Resolution on Homosexuality.” And I have no problem with the expectation that ABCUSA (and ABCUSA is not to be confused with any Region) teaching and behavior should be consistent with both. Indeed, statements adopted by the General Board should be sufficient. My uneasiness is in the elevation of such issues to the level of faith. But that uneasiness is not because I am moved by the tiresome charge of “creedalism.” I am uneasy because both marriage and sexuality, while important, remain peripheral to my core faith beliefs. To me these are morality and behavior issues; they are discipleship concerns and flow out of my faith. While very important (and essential considerations in ordination), they are neither the objects nor expressions of my faith.At the same time, this is consistent with our pattern of behavior. American Baptists of all varieties have sought to have their issues endorsed at the highest level. It cannot be reduced to a question of “right” or “left,” “fundamentalist” or “liberal.” All across the spectrum it is done. Key documents tend to become exhaustive catalogs of behaviors and expectations because we cannot practice discernment and discipline. (And then we merely ignore them, because they don’t mean anything). And that is what I find really troubling.
I am also concerned about the inclusion of this line in our statement of faith because raises the stakes. It has the potential for increasing the conflict, not resolving it. In particular, it may raise false hopes and expectations. And I am concerned that we have set a pattern for the future. Will every issue become a candidate for inclusion in our statement of faith?
Nevertheless, this move was could be predicted because of the frustration that the majority (yes, the majority) of our churches are experiencing over the inability/unwillingness of the General Board and the General Secretary to find Christ-centered, compassionate ways to implement policies and resolutions within the limits of their authority—and to say so clearly and publicly. As that frustration mounts, the chances for thoughtful action go down. If left unchecked, terrorism or revolution will result. As supposed leaders in this denomination, we must own up to our failure to lead through this frustration.
From another arena, I am not sure how public the General Executive Council (GEC) actions are, but I will venture to comment on them as well.
There were three actions of GEC reported to me (and everything I have to say is based on the accuracy of that report).
First Action: That the GEC express in writing a desire for PSW to remain in the Covenant of Relationships.
Second Action: That GEC appoints a group of people to craft and implement an intervention strategy that would engage PSW and all the other parties who have engaged in this process so far to bring to conclusion in a given time frame and report back to GEC in April of 2006.
Third Action: Building upon its action in the Spring of 2005, the GEC has observed a confluence of events that are symptomatic of a need for a comprehensive reevaluation of the very character of what it means to be a denomination in this day, and that we accordingly resolve to put in place a process to review the Covenant of Relationships to include a review of our values, structure, and decision-making processes that would form the basis of a new relationship together.
I affirm all three actions. We should not have gotten to this point without taking such action.
In particular, the Third Action is both significant and long overdue.The debates around the Commission on Denominational Unity (CODU) report in 1997-98 exposed fundamental flaws in our organizational culture—in particular our inability to deal with deeply divisive concerns in constructive ways, especially if it means setting limits. The debates in the midst of Common Budget Covenant negotiations (which were not common public knowledge) also indicated to me a growing disregard for our covenantal life together. I concluded two years ago that our covenant life together was nominal at best.
I am not certain where this conversation will lead, but I hope that it is not too late. If the covenant partners (all 39? of us) cannot agree how we will be legally autonomous but covenantally interdependent at the same time (and also persuade/teach our churches what that means) then ABCUSA will dissipate into irrelevance. Susan, a long time ago (too long ago) you asked me what I wanted. It is time to be obtuse—probably something you have come to expect from me. I want ABCUSA to act like a healthy family, not a madhouse full of self-centered juveniles.
Do you want to contact members of the PSW board directly? Here they are, along with their emails. A friendly service from your humble blogger.
Mr. Brian Scrivens, President (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rev. Daniel Huerta, Vice President (email@example.com)
Rev. Douglas Copeland, Treasurer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rev. Jerri Hubbard, Secretary (email@example.com)
Rev. Terry Barnett, Golden Empire Association (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mr. Art Blodgett, San Diego Rep (email@example.com)
Mrs. Cleda Givens-Bullock, Nationally Nominated Rep (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rev. Floyd D. Bullock, Black Caucus Rep (email@example.com)
Mrs. Loretta Cargill, Area 3 Rep (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rev. Hengky Chiok, Asian Church Rep (email@example.com)
Ms. Beverly-Jene Coffman, ABWM Rep (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mrs. Sharon Dumas, Central Coast, Ventura & Hawaii Rep (email@example.com)
Rev. Larry Fultz, Arizona Rep, Regionally Nominated Rep (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. Vic Gordon, Regionally Nominated Rep (email@example.com)
Rev. Ronald Johnson, At Large Member (RevRonJon@juno.com)
Mr. Manuel Luquin, ABM Rep & Regionally Nominated Rep (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mr. Larry O'Nan, Inland Empire Association Rep (email@example.com)
Mrs. Joyce Winterberg, Regionally Nominated Rep (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Denomination dilemma hits churches
By Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
Paula Slagel has no qualms saying goodbye to American Baptist Churches.
Her church, Colton First Baptist, always has been under the leadership of the liberal Baptist denomination, but it's more concerned with the community than polity.
"It's not about a denomination. It's about Jesus," said the 50-year-old Yucaipa woman.
About 300 congregations in California, Nevada and Arizona are part of the more conservative Pacific Southwest Region of the American Baptist Churches USA, which voted in September to leave the denomination over the issue of homosexuality. Most congregations are expected to follow.
But it doesn't seem to be attracting much attention from the people in the pews.
"What is going on with the regional and national organizations has not caught them on the edge of their seats," Pastor Scott Weatherill of First Baptist Church in Chino said of his congregation. "They are more interested in what it means to follow Christ and how they can love one another and serve the community."
Such disinterest in church politics underlines a grander phenomenon: Denominations are dwindling.
"They tend to be hierarchical and controlling," said Eddie Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. "Whereas the churches that are primarily concerned to be a missional [sic] presence in an increasingly post-secular society, they are not interested in the traditions of the past. They are interested in the problems of the present."
Christian researcher George Barna writes in his new book "Revolution" that church walls are rapidly breaking down for about 20 million adult Christians. To these "revolutionaries," church is not a place but a people; it is wherever Christians meet.
That's a return to Christianity's roots.
The churches detailed in the New Testament of the Bible - Rome, Corinth, Ephesus - didn't meet in beautiful buildings or report to a hierarchical leadership, Gibbs said. They interpreted the teachings of Jesus and his apostles the best they could, and they responded to the feedback of other Christians, including Paul, the prolific New Testament writer.
"Our church operates so independently of the denomination that people often don't know who we are affiliated with," said the Rev. Dane Aaker, pastor of Colton First Baptist. "We often call ourselves the "Barely Baptist Church.'"
Colton First Baptist's 400 members will decide Dec. 14 whether to leave the 1.5 million-member American Baptist Churches USA.
If it does, the congregation would remain under the guidance of the Pacific Southwest Region. Colton First Baptist also plans to change its name to Centerpoint Church, which according to a letter given to church members Sunday "will be a great reminder that Christ (not a denomination) is the center and the point of our church."
During four services Sunday, Aaker assured churchgoers that "nothing will change here."
Betty Morgan, an 82-year-old greeter, didn't care about the politics. She was just sad to hear the church's name is going to change. It's been the same since it was founded in 1887, and she has attended Colton First Baptist since she was a child.
Other people didn't think the denominational split would affect their church.
The context of the split is a disagreement regarding how the church should deal with homosexuality.
A church resolution states "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," but the national denomination holds that each church has "soul liberty," which allows them to interpret scripture as they believe correct.
Under soul liberty, liberal churches are ordaining gays and lesbians, and conservative churches are being ruffled.
"We are always seemingly butting up our heads on this issue of soul liberty versus biblical authority," Weatherill said. "Let's move on ... kind of like a Paul and a Barnabas. You minister here and we will minister there."
Sunday, November 27, 2005
Sunday, Nov. 27, 2005
Posted: 12:35:01PM EST
Amid the ongoing controversy over gay policies within the American Baptist Churches of USA, the denomination added a new phrase to its self-definition in favor of a stronger stance against homosexuality.
With growing criticism over the denomination's lack of stringency and action against homosexuality, the General Board voted during a Nov. 17-20 meeting to alter a phrase on the "We Are American Baptists" document. The new wording reads that American Baptists are believers "who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching."
The vote passed 59-45 with five abstentions.
"We don't see it as a victory so much as a statement by our constituency that the Bible is our authority," said Larry Mason, executive minister of the Indiana-Kentucky region, in a released statement.
While the denomination had a resolution stating that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" since 1992, churches have not been bound to it and no implementing provisions were made.
Congregations criticized the denomination for the lack of discipline on churches with liberal gay policies and in recent months, the Pacific Southwest region of 300 member congregations began the process of separating from the ABCUSA. The regional board will decide in December whether to have its members vote on the separation.
Controversy over the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage has continued within the 1.4 million-member denomination. In August 2005, the Senate of the Ministers Council rejected a requirement that would have banned practicing homosexuals from Senate membership. Previously in 2004, the Regional Executive Ministers Council decided in a 20 to 3 vote not to recommend practicing homosexuals for positions and ministries at the regional and national levels and not to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies.
"Today we have deep divisions around our understanding of Biblical interpretation, human sinfulness, and the potential of ministering together," said a 2005 statement on mission and ministry that recognized the difference of opinion within the denomination on homosexuality. "We further acknowledge that not all churches consider this issue to be central to mission and ministry."
This morning a member of my church (FBC Temple City, CA) handed me a resolution that was passed at the recent (Nov. 15-16, 2005) state convention meeting of Southern Baptists in California held at San Jose. "Resolution Number One" was presented by Gary Coombs of Shadow Mountain Community Church of El Cajon. Here's the text:
PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION OF THE AMERICAN BAPTIST CHURCHES OF THE USA
The Pacific Southwest region of the American Baptist Churches USA is in the process of withdrawing from the American Baptist Convention USA (ABCUSA) over the issue of biblical authority and moral integrity, in particular their continued tolerance for homosexual behavior and
The Pacific Southwest region's board of directors, representing 300 churches, voted September 8th to begin the withdrawal from the national convention, and
Be It Resolved,
The California Southern Baptist Convention commends and stands with the American Baptist churches of the Pacific Southwest region, for demonstration of unswerving commitmemnet to the Word of God and moral integrity. We stand with you as fellow members of the body of Christ;
Futhermore, We prayerfully encourage the American Baptist convention to reconsider its doctrinal positions on biblical authority and homosexuality.
The sheet I recieved noted that it passed, and I assume by a wide margin.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
I was wondering when the media would get around to this. This AP report is a pretty fair statement of where things are. So here it appears on Thanksgiving Day. The action taken by the General Board last week should be understood in light of the blog entry Renewal Leaders Express Concern Over Deceptive "Third Way" Tactic on Sexuality from Nov. 22.
Religion news in brief
GREEN LAKE, Wis. - The governing board of the 1.4 million-member American Baptist Churches in the USA added a stand against gay sex to the denomination's self-definition, but it's unclear whether that will heal a growing split over homosexuality.
The new wording says American Baptists are believers "who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching."
The General Board approved the wording by a 59-45 vote (with five abstentions) as an addition to the "We Are American Baptists" statement.
The denomination has taken previous stands against gay sex. But it has not disciplined congregations with liberal gay policies, say complaints from the Pacific Southwest region, whose board will decide in December whether to have 300 member congregations vote on ending support for the denomination.
Last month, the West Virginia association, the largest regional group with 465 congregations, defeated by 391-325 a proposal to break with the national denomination.
Liberal policies among some American Baptists were cited as one reason the Southern Baptist Convention voted to quit the Baptist World Alliance, to which both denominations had belonged.
The vote was 59-45 vote, with 5 abstaining. That 54% aye, 41% nay and 5% abstaining. (Why on earth would anyone abstain on such an important issue? It's mind-boggling.) That would be a landslide in an election. However, in the real world, if 7 GB members had switched, it would have been a tie and died. That's how narrow the pro-family, pro-historic faith vote was in the GB. I ask my readers: does this narrow victory give you any more than a passing moment of confidence in the ABC-USA? Should the clear teaching of Scripture win by the skin of its teeth among people of faith?
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Q: Is it true that the West Virginia Baptist Convention voted to remain in the ABCUSA?
A: This is a great illustration of the maxim, "Half the story is the wrong story." Dr. David Carrico, Executive Minister of the West Virginia Baptist Convention, reports that two resolutions regarding the Region's relationship with the ABCUSA were voted on at their convention. A motion to leave the ABCUSA immediately was defeated by 75 votes with over 700 votes cast. A second motion to reaffirm the Region's relationship with the ABCUSA was defeated by over 200 votes.In Dr. Carrico's words, "So the message was, we are still ABC BUT we are very unhappy !"
Q: After the PSW spins-off the ABC, what will it look like? Will it be a new denomination?
A: There is no indication from the Lord of the Church that our vision to strengthen churches through mentoring, leader training, and coaching has been recalled! The priority of the PSW remains. We will serve all our churches as they change their worlds for Christ.Some things will change if we spin-off, and the PSW Board has formed 2 task forces to begin to anticipate those changes. One task force is in the process of field testing several names for the PSW across a broad cross section of our churches. The second task force is anticipating future possibilities in terms of budget, relationships, staffing, missions, and the needs of our diverse churches. We will share results as soon as we have them.We are blazing a trail and have few models to follow; so, we are moving ahead with prayer and caution. We are confident God will continue to blow away the fog and reveal the new land He is leading us to.
Source: an email sent out by PSW today.
Pacific Southwest Region Board Names Last Friday of Each Month as Day of Prayer & Fasting
The PSW Region Board believes that any change we seek as a Region, any movement to transform our worlds for Christ must be bathed in prayer. Fasting helps center the mind by depriving the body of nourishment and directing the spirit in nourishing relationships with our Lord and Savior.
Therefore, we call on every pastor, church and American Baptist Christian throughout our PSW region to set aside the last Friday of the month as a time to devote to prayer. We will do this every month as we seek to determine God's leading for the future.
For those who have demanding work schedules you still have time set aside to have meals. We hope that you will use the time set for meals to instead pray for discernment and clarity.
What is fasting? Throughout Scripture fasting refers to abstaining from food for the spiritual purpose of submitting to God. It is not a hunger strike, nor is to gain political power, or attract attention for a good cause. It is not a diet for physical purposes. (Luke 4:2ff; Daniel 10:3; Esther 4:16; Acts 9:9; Deut. 9:9; 2 Chron. 20:1-4; 2 Cor. 11:27)
How to Pray and Fast (from Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline)
"While it is the spirit of the rule and not the letter of it that is important, consider avoiding food for 24 hours (this includes snacks as much as meals). Replace a meal with water and fruit juices.
"Outwardly perform the duties of your day, but inwardly you will be in prayer and adoration, song and worship. Consider some worship music on your CD player for some of this. In a new way, cause every task of the day to be a sacred ministry to the Lord. Break your fast with a light meal of fresh fruits and vegetables and a good deal of inner rejoicing. Consider writing down what you experienced. Obviously care needs to be taken if you have diabetes, or are pregnant, or have heart problems."
During times you would normally eat, avoid normal activities and conversations and be in a place or spirit of concentration to pray on all the issues that our pastors, churches and Region face. This time of prayer might include the ideas of ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication for others)
What to Pray About:
Pray that our Region listen to the Lord's leading and avoid anything that does not Honor Him.
Pray for our Executive Minister, Dr. Dale Salico and our Region Board - that the leadership decisions they make will glorify Christ.
Pray for the upcoming meeting of the Regional Executive Ministers (REMC)
and the General Board that will face many of the same issues that we are facing here in PSW.
Pray for a renewal of ABCUSA across the country
Pray that our churches make the right decision regarding withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships with ABCUSA.
Pray for our churches to be transformed by a new vision for reaching their world's for Christ, and pray for the raising up of empowered leaders in all our churches to strengthen our churches.
"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger ?. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks." - Phillips Brooks, Minister 1835-1893
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
From The Christian Post:
WASHINGTON – Conservative leaders from across denominational and geographic borders issued a joint letter warning against “third way” proposals that may change mainline church teachings on sexuality.
“This letter is a shot across the bow of those who, having failed in a frontal assault on biblical standards barring sex outside the marriage of man and woman, are now trying to subvert the standards indirectly,” said the Rev. James V. Heidinger, chair of the Association of Church Renewal that sent out the letter. According to a Nov. 21 press release from ACR, the letter is meant to inform U.S. mainline Christians of the “new strategy” used by gay-rights advocates in changing current standards on ordination and marriage. Traditionally, Christians either believed homosexuality is a sin or believed homosexuality – if examined closely in today’s context – is not a sin. This new strategy introduces a “third way” viewpoint on the sexuality debate, where churches agree that homosexuality is a sin but gives room for individuals, churches, and bodies room to dissent. “This new strategy is less direct." The letter stated. “Yet the effect would be the same: to undermine and ultimately to set aside the historic Christian teaching that affirms God's good gift of sexual intimacy solely within the marriage of man and woman.” Such a strategy has already been adopted in several denominations, including the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the American Baptist Church. The ECUSA, which is currently embroiled in an international brawl over ordination standards, in 1996 adopted a decision that said that Christian teachings against homosexuality were not “core doctrine.” In the ABC, the denominational policies say the practice of homosexuality is incompatible to Christian teaching, but the church allows some congregations to dissent. Similar strategies have also been introduced in the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – the largest Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran denomination in the United States, respectively.Each of those denominations has dedicated several years to study the thorny issue of homosexuality and has affirmed that it will remain united in spite of obvious differences. Reformed leaders have long complained about such an approach with some suggesting the denominations split into dissenting factions. In the United Methodist Church, for example, Heidinger was involved with the circulation of a letter that called for an “amicable separation” over the differences in understanding homosexuality, during the denomination’s 2004 General Assembly.While the UMC never adopted the informal proposal – delegates to the Assembly instead adopted a statement affirming their unity – the thought of separating continued to surface periodically among conservative circles.The ACR reiterated such concerns. “No promise of ecclesiastical peace and unity can justify these distortions of the church’s theology and polity,” the letter stated.
The letter also suggested that the “third way” approach signifies a “retreat” by advocates of gay rights.
“Tacitly, they are conceding that the weight of biblical and traditional Christian teaching is against them,” the letter stated. However, the statement continued, “it would set a terrible precedent of a church openly acknowledging a biblical command and then treating obedience to that command as optional.” “We stand opposed to this false ‘third way,’ with the same firmness with which we opposed the earlier attempts to re-interpret the Bible,” the letter stated. “We warn you to beware such ‘compromises’ that give away too much.”The Association for Church Renewal is a roundtable of leaders of renewal groups, mostly within the North American mainline Protestant churches. The ACR letter was signed by 29 individuals from 21 organizations. Among the denominations represented were: the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the Church of the Brethren, and the United Church of Christ.The text of the ACR letter, the list of signatories, and other information on the Association for Church Renewal is available its website at ird-renew.org/acr.
Copyright © 2004 The Christian Post.
From Agape Press:
'Compromises' on Human Sexuality Undercut Biblical Standards, Say Renewal Leaders
By Jody BrownNovember 22, 2005
(AgapePress) - A coalition of denominational renewal groups is warning Christians in America that an "assault" on biblical standards regarding sexuality -- in the guise of supposed "compromises" -- is in reality subverting those standards so that church bodies and officials can disregard them whenever they wish.
For decades, it seems, several mainline Protestant denominations have wrestled with the issue of homosexuality among their clergy, their laity, and society at large -- and how to deal with it in their official denominational procedures and doctrine. Seemingly unwilling to simply declare the lifestyle as sinful, instead they have taken to adopting different strategies toward homosexuality. The Episcopal Church USA, for example, concluded in 1996 that traditional Christian teachings opposing homosexuality were not "core doctrine." Eventually ECUSA consecrated the first openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson, who now oversees the Diocese of New Hampshire.
Other examples include the United Methodist Church, which last year almost approved a resolution that would have added to the Book of Discipline a phrase "recogniz[ing] that Christians disagree" on the question of whether the practice of homosexuality is or is not compatible with Christian teaching. In a similar vein, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America this year turned away a proposal that would have permitted exceptions to be granted even though ELCA ministers would be expected to "abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."
And next year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is expected to consider a resolution that would permit local churches to deem as "non-essential" the constitutional requirement of "fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."
While those who hold a liberal theology might consider such strategies as progressive, the Association for Church Renewal (ACR) -- a roundtable of conservative leaders from these denominations and others such as the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Church of the Brethren, and the United Church of Canada -- sees the moves as a "compromise" intended to win the Church's affirmation of homosexual acts. That, says the ACR, is an attempt to indirectly "subvert the [biblical] standards" and to invent "procedural devices permitting church bodies and officials to disregard the standards at will."
In an open letter to Christians in the United States, the ACR warns that this compromise evident in several Protestant denominations "would sever the church's practice from its doctrine," essentially setting a "terrible precedent" in which a church openly acknowledges a biblical command -- and then treats obedience to that command as "optional."
"If denominations start granting exemptions from church discipline in one area," states the letter, "it will be very difficult to maintain any kind of covenant of mutual accountability within the church."
According to the ACR, advocates of compromise -- or the "third way," as the ACR labels it -- claim their proposed solution would strike a balance between different interpretations of Bible passages and allow the church to "get beyond yes/no polarities" that force it to make painful choices. Such an approach, says the ACR letter, "is utter nonsense."
"The Bible is filled with unavoidable yes/no choices," the letter points out, citing Deuteronomy 30:19, Joshua 24:15, Matthew 25:33, and Revelation 3:20. "A church that systematically refuses to choose between truth and error has no place left to stand.
"To the extent that any church declines to distinguish the better from the worse biblical interpretations, it undercuts its own ability to teach clear doctrine from the scriptures," add the signers of the ACR letter.
The letter concludes with the ACR's reaffirmation that the standard of fidelity in marriage -- and abstinence in singleness -- remains "the most faithful interpretation of God's will for human sexuality" and an essential component in the Holy Spirit presenting sanctified believers as "holy and blameless" before God.
"We ask you [brothers and sisters in the Lord] to stand steadfast with us in rejecting any compromise that would shift Christ's church away from that godly endeavor," says the letter, which is signed by more than two dozen individuals from 21 different organizations.
I have taken the liberty to bold key passages. Note the American Baptist signatories; it's also good to see my old friend David Runnion-Bareford from the UCC in this company. The open letter says it well, and accurately diagnoses exactly the bill of goods the theo-left in the ABC is trying to sell.
An Open Letter from Association for Church Renewal Leaders
And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he [Christ] has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:21-23, RSV)
Sisters and Brothers in the Lord:
We, renewal leaders in various North American Protestant denominations, write you with thanksgiving for Christ's great work of reconciliation and sanctification. It is our only hope in life and death.
We encourage you to remain steadfast in your faith in Christ's work, looking to him as the sole source of unity and purity within his church. There are constantly shifting alternatives that offer a false, cheap peace. But we urge you not to let go of the true and costly peace won by Jesus Christ.
As many of us gathered October 17-18 in Arlington, Virginia, we noted a shifting situation in several denominations. This letter is our attempt to alert you to these new developments.
The debate within our churches over biblical standards for human sexuality may be entering a new phase. For decades, revisionists have argued that the Scriptures, properly understood, do not prohibit homosexuality as it is practiced today. Indeed, they have insisted that biblical values of "justice" require the acceptance of homosexual relationships.
Increasingly, however, the arguments have shifted. We now see, in several denominations, a new strategy to win the church's affirmation of homosexual acts. This new strategy is less direct. It is offered as a "compromise," a "third way." Yet the effect would be the same: to undermine and ultimately to set aside the historic Christian teaching that affirms God's good gift of sexual intimacy solely within the marriage of man and woman.
We stand opposed to this false "third way," with the same firmness with which we opposed the earlier attempts to re-interpret the Bible. We warn you to beware such "compromises" that give away too much.
The essence of the new strategy is this: to leave in church law books the orthodox standards calling Christians to fidelity in marriage and sexual abstinence in singleness, while inventing procedural devices permitting church bodies and officials to disregard the standards at will. This strategy has been proposed-and, in some cases, functionally adopted-in the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Insofar as it succeeds in some of those denominations, the strategy will likely be replicated elsewhere.
This strategy marks, in some ways, a retreat by the pro-homosexuality advocates. Tacitly, they are conceding that the weight of biblical and traditional Christian teaching is against them. They have not been able adequately to answer the powerful exegesis buttressing that teaching, represented especially by Robert Gagnon's masterwork The Bible and Homosexual Practice. The pro-homosexuality advocates have not persuaded most church members to abandon the historic teaching. For this indirect vindication of the truth, we must all be grateful to God.
Yet we cannot be content with standards that remain on paper while being emptied of all force. This false "compromise" would be, in some respects, more damaging than a straightforward blessing of homosexual relations. Not only would it convey tolerance of sin in the important area of sexuality, but it would also set the church adrift more generally.
This "third way" would sever the church's practice from its doctrine. It would set a terrible precedent of a church openly acknowledging a biblical command and then treating obedience to that command as optional. If denominations start granting exemptions from church discipline in one area, it will be very difficult to maintain any kind of covenant of mutual accountability within the church. No promise of ecclesiastical peace and unity can justify these distortions of the church's theology and polity.
Advocates for this "third way" make arguments that strain credibility to the breaking point. They claim that they are "proposing no changes" to the church's standards. But in fact they are seeking a radical change-to demote the standards to "non-essential" status. They claim that their "compromise" would split the difference between traditionalist and revisionist views on sexuality. But in fact it would yield exactly the result desired by the revisionists-moral approbation of non-marital sex-on a slightly longer timeline.
"Third way" proponents also claim that their solution would strike a balance between different interpretations of the Scriptures. When two interpretations are mutually contradictory, these proponents want to accept both the one and the other as equally valid. They urge the church to "get beyond yes/no polarities" that force it to make painful choices. Their "third way" would avoid such choices by affirming all individuals interpreting the Bible as sincere and faithful Christians.
This approach is utter nonsense. The Bible is filled with unavoidable yes/no choices: "I set before you life and death, blessing and curse" (Deuteronomy 30:19); "Choose this day whom you will serve" (Joshua 24:15); "He will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left" (Matthew 25:33); "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you" (Revelation 3:20).
A church that systematically refuses to choose between truth and error has no place left to stand. To the extent that any church declines to distinguish the better from the worse biblical interpretations, it undercuts its own ability to teach clear doctrine from the Scriptures.
The existence of different interpretations does not imply that all those interpretations are equally valid. Nor does it imply that all interpreters are equally faithful. On the contrary, it is more likely that every interpreter falls short of complete faithfulness-to a greater or lesser degree. The church cannot give unconditional affirmation to all its members' personal views of Scripture. It always has the responsibility to seek the most faithful interpretation and to act upon it.
We are convinced-by the consistent testimony of the Scriptures and the Church Universal, through the ages and around the world-that the fidelity in marriage and abstinence in singleness standard remains the most faithful interpretation of God's will for human sexuality. This is an essential component of our calling in the Lord Jesus and our sanctification through the Holy Spirit, who purposes to "present [us] holy and blameless and irreproachable before him." We ask you to stand steadfast with us in rejecting any compromise that would shift Christ's church away from that godly endeavor.
- Sara L. Anderson, Executive Vice President, Bristol House, Ltd. (United Methodist)
- The Rev. James D. Berkley, Interim Director, Presbyterian Action for Faith & Freedom
- Verna M. and Dr. Robert H. Blackburn, National Alliance of Covenanting Congregations (United Church of Canada)
- The Rev. Karen Booth, Executive Director, Transforming Congregations (United Methodist)
- Pastor Mark C. Chavez, Director, WordAlone Network (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
- The Rev. Susan Cyre, Executive Director, Presbyterians for Faith, Family, and Ministry
- The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network
- The Rev. Thomas J. Edwards, Executive Director, New Wineskins Initiative (Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.))
- The Rev. Dr. Ira Gallaway, Confessing Movement (United Methodist)
- Dr. Scott M. Gibson, President, American Baptist Evangelicals
- The Rev. Dr. Donna Hailson, pastor, author, former professor (American Baptist)
- The Rev. James V. Heidinger, President, Good News (United Methodist)
- The Rev. Arthur Hiley, Vice President, National Alliance of Covenanting Congregations (United Church of Canada)
- The Rev. Harold S. Martin, Editor, Brethren Revival Fellowship (Church of the Brethren)
- Craig Alan Myers, Chairman, Brethren Revival Fellowship (Church of the Brethren)
- The Rev. Bill Nicoson, Executive Director, American Baptist Evangelicals
- Dr. Thomas C. Oden, board member, Confessing Movement (United Methodist)
- The Rev. David Runnion-Bareford, Executive Director, Biblical Witness Fellowship (United Church of Christ)
- Terry Schlossberg, Executive Director, Presbyterian Coalition
- Faye Short, President, RENEW Network (United Methodist)
- David and Jean Leu Stanley, Chairman and Steering Committee member, UMAction (United Methodist)
- The Rev. Vernon Stoop, Executive Director, Focus Renewal Ministries in the United Church of Christ
- The Rev. Michael Walker, Executive Director, Presbyterians for Renewal
- The Rev. Roland J. Wells, Jr., Vice President, Great Commission Network (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
- The Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, Executive Director, Anglicans United
- The Rev. Parker T. Williamson, Editor and Chief Executive Officer, Presbyterian Lay Committee
- Alan Wisdom, Interim President, Institute on Religion and Democracy, elder in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Monday, November 21, 2005
A Time to Speak the Truth in Love
Dr. Dale V. Salico
Address to the General Board, ABCUSA, November 17, 2005
For months the ABCPSW Board had struggled with the contrasting injunctions found in Scripture to:
· stand for the truth of God resisting error within the Church to the point of separation if necessary; and
· maintain and strengthen unity within the Church, which is the body of Christ.
Consider the following Scriptures:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:3-6
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Mathew 5:19
Despite first appearance, these are not competing imperatives. The Church is not to choose between unity and truth. The Church is to be unified in and by the truth. And the truth that is embraced by the Church includes its unity. It is through “speaking the truth in love” that the church “grows up into Him who is its head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
For twenty years American Baptists have discussed, with greater and lesser levels of contentiousness, the issue of homosexuality. The General Board Resolution on Homosexuality, far from ending the conflict, merely changed the level of discussion because it lacked statements of implementation. Today, with a growing percentage of Americans questioning or openly rejecting the 2000 year-old understanding of the Christian Church that homosexual behavior is sinful, the need for the Church to speak clearly has become inescapable.
Yet American Baptists have been unable to speak with clarity. Despite good faith efforts by American Baptists of all persuasions to reach consensus, the best the ABC has been able to do is write a deliberately ambiguous one-sentence Resolution that set precedent in the denomination by its lack of implementation points. That Resolution states, The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
It is the conviction of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest that this Resolution represents the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Bible, and that it should govern in a visible way our life together as a denomination of covenanting partners. For the past eight years I, as well as delegates from the ABCPSW have said stated this conviction in the General Board as well as other ABC arenas. While we have worked for unity in our body, we have also made it clear that our churches were increasingly dissatisfied with what they see as a contradiction between this American Baptist Resolution and the American Baptist reality.
What action did the ABCPSW Board of Directors take?
It is important to understand the sequence of events that pertained to Board decisions. On May 12, 2005 the Board of Directors of the ABCPSW approved the following resolution.
Be it resolved that if the issues regarding homosexuality are not biblically dealt with by the end of the Biennial Meetings of the ABCUSA July 1-4, 2005, we as a Region will move forward with [following] process. . .with the understanding that we are remaining a covenanting partner in the ABCUSA.
1. Remain a full covenanting partner, but reduce participation in ABCUSA-generated meetings. . .
2. Remain a full covenanting partner in the ABCUSA but establish parallel relationships with other bodies that will help us advance our vision and mission priorities. . .
3. Withdraw from the ABCUSA Budget Covenant, but continue as a Covenanting Partner in the ABCUSA.
Four times in this resolution the Board affirmed its desire to remain within the Covenant of Relationships. In specifying its intent to withdraw from the Budget Covenant, the Board was attempting to call attention to the fact that it was in very serious conflict with directions set by the ABCUSA and that much work was needed to prevent a possible separation.
In response, Dr. Medley expressed regret that the Board felt such measures were necessary. Then he stated that it was not possible with withdraw from the Budget Covenant and remain a member of the Covenant of Relationships. “To break the budget Covenant will be to break the whole Covenant of Relationships and be out of Covenant as a Region.”
Our Region Board was now faced with a situation in which all its previous attempts to communicate serious dissatisfaction with the treatment the ABCUSA was giving to its Resolution on homosexuality had been disregarded. All recommendations for implementation by this Region and other Regions in recent years, most recently at the very important General Executive Council meetings in April, 2005, had been rejected. The Regional Executive Ministers had gone to the April meeting in San Antonio, Texas committed to approve recommendations to the General Board to implement the Resolution on Homosexuality. At the end of those meetings, despite the clear communication from several Executive Ministers including myself that there would be very negative repercussions in our Regions if we reported to our Boards that the GEC would not recommend any implementation of this important policy to the General Board last June.
At the meeting in San Antonio I stated that I was not certain I could hold the ABCPSW in Covenant if I took home such a report, and recommended we appoint a task force of GEC members to study possible minimal implementation steps and report back to the GEC in six months. This recommendation was also rejected.
On September 8, 2005, following months of discussion and prayer, the following resolution was approved:
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.
Recognizing that part three of the Resolution, withdrawing from the Budget Covenant, had led to confusion regarding the date of the Region’s withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships, on October 13, 2005, the ABCPSW Board of Directors changed part three of the resolution to read, The ABCPSW will remain in the Budget Covenant until such time as the churches vote the Region out of the Covenant of Relationships.
The following is the sequence of actions projected over the next six months for the ABCPSW:
1) The Executive Committee of the ABCPSW is studying the implications of withdrawing from the Covenant of Relationships;
2) On December 8, the Executive Committee will report to the Board of Directors. The Board will have the following options for action:
i. Recommend further study.
ii. Approve the study and recommend that the churches endorse the proposed withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships, calling for a special meeting of the ABCPSW, providing the churches with not less than 90 days notice of this meeting and its agenda.
iii. Approve the study and rescind its recommendation to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships.
3) If the Board of Director approves of the study and recommends that the churches endorse the proposal to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships, complete information will be sent to the churches regarding the meeting and the number of delegates assigned to each church according to the Bylaws of the ABCPSW. The Region’s Bylaws do not require a vote by the churches to approve the action by the Board. The Board of Directors feels that in such a weighty matter, an expression of the will of the delegates will provide the Board with the input it needs to make a responsible and informed decision.
The ABCPSW remains at the present time and will remain at least through the first quarter of 2006 a full covenanting partner with the ABCUSA. We therefore view the action of the General Board Executive Committee in September 2005 to ask ABCPSW delegate Manuel Luquin to leave the meeting of the GBEC when it discussed the actions of the ABCPSW as both inappropriate and unwise. It was inappropriate because the action had no basis in the ABCUSA Bylaws, Standing Rules, the Covenant of Relationships or in law. It was unwise because the only person in the room who could give insight regarding the reasoning and heart of the ABCPSW Board was asked to leave after sharing in five minutes the state of the Region.
It was likewise inappropriate and unwise for the GBEC to ask our delegates not to come to the November meeting in Green Lake. This request was withdrawn by President Johnson in her letter of October 2005. However, the President continued to request ABCPSW delegates to recuse themselves during discussion of our region’s action. This repeated insistence that ABCPSW delegates not participate in discussion left us with the impression that our covenant partners do not desire to hear what has caused the Region Board to take the action it did nor for us to hear discussion that concerns this Region directly.
What feelings accompanied the action of the Region Board?
Brian Scivens, President of the ABCPSW Board of Directors, in his letter to the churches stated:
The Board of Directors of the ABCPSW is deeply grieved over this decision. We continue to recognize our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ABCUSA as beloved friends and co-workers in the Body of Christ. Because of our long history and many common concerns in gospel ministry, we will have opportunities for continued fellowship and partnership. Our decision to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationship is made without animosity or malice. We will continue to pray for God’s blessing on the ABCUSA, its leadership, agencies and congregations.
If the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships, in what ways would it desire to continue to partner together for mission?
In voting to begin a process to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships the Board stated that it desired to create distance between the ABCPSW and the ABCUSA so that both may move ahead in the mission God has given them without continual conflict. The creation of distance does not mean the ending of all partnership. American Baptists partnered together in mission for over 60 years before the Covenant of Relationships. It stands to reason that we can partner together in mission where there is agreement to do so after a party withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships. Think of the desire of the ABCPSW as “three d’s”-- distance and distinctiveness with the least amount of damage possible.
I have presented to the General Board Executive Committee a list of twelve talking points concerning areas for possible future cooperation if the ABCPSW does pull out of the Covenant of Relationships. These are ways the ABCPSW can continue to partner with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the ABCUSA in areas of agreement, despite our serious disagreement.
It is not, as some have suggested, the intent of this Region to retain the benefits of being American Baptist while avoiding the responsibilities of being American Baptists. Our desire is to work together for the advancement of God’s kingdom where there is agreement and where it is to the benefit of the ABCPSW, the ABCUSA and our other mission partners to do so.
The issues we have raised are not directed equally toward all covenanting partners. We are in agreement in conviction and core values with many Regions as well as other American Baptist agencies. It is our intention to work together with these partners wherever possible. It is also our intention to avoid speaking disparagingly of any American Baptists. We will continue to value American Baptists, including those with whom we have serious differences as brothers and sisters in Christ’s kingdom.
What would it take on the part of the ABCUSA to cause the ABCPSW Board of Directors to reconsider its action?
We have discussed in our Executive Committee and Board what it would take on the part of the ABCUSA to cause the ABCPSW Board of Directors to reconsider its recommendation to withdraw from the Covenant of relationships. The following three points summarize the Board’s discernment at this time.
1. The ABCUSA must treat seriously its Resolution on Homosexuality dated 1992. The General Secretary should demonstrate that this resolution expresses the clear teaching of the Bible and encourage congregations to be welcoming and transforming agents for persons struggling with this sinful behavior. We urge the ABCUSA to reestablish accountability for accepting the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. The ABCPSW is deeply troubled about being part of a denomination whose commitment to theological inclusiveness has displaced its commitment to Biblical discipline.
2. At the Common Table (the General Board with its commissions and committees, the Office of the General Secretary, the program Boards related to the ABCUSA) policies should be implemented to ensure that membership of Boards, Committees and Commissions, as well as platform leadership are consistent with the ABCUSA Resolution on Homosexuality.
, 3. We urge the General Board to appoint a commission authorized to implement what is needed to achieve the above items. This is not a study commission or discussion commission. We have been grieved by 20 years of inaction. The most recent ABCUSA consultant has told us that in addition to dealing with issues of structure and communication, action needs to be taken to get the ABCUSA off the fence regarding the issue of homosexuality which is immobilizing us in pursuit of God’s mission. We have heard and we agree with the consultant that it is time for change.
As American Baptists we have been at the forefront in discerning God’s message for His people. Through all the struggles of cultures and societies, historically American Baptists have looked not to the opinions of people but to the authority of God and His Word. We believe God is calling us as a denomination back to His supreme authority. We call on American Baptists not to be swayed by our wayward society, but to look to God’s profound, unequivocal Word and stand steadfastly on that Word.
Regardless of what the future holds, we commit to you before our Lord to continue to hold you in high esteem and in love as brothers and sisters in Christ and to refuse to speak disparagingly of the ABCUSA. If we cannot work together in covenant, we can still be workers in the same field of the Lord in spite of their deep differences. And we will leave the final judgment of all our actions, convictions and attitudes to the Lord, to whom judgment rightly belongs.