Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Donkin: ABCPSW Pastors Advocating Separation Should Resign

Roy Donkin is pastor of Cambridge Drive Community Church in Goleta, CA. Today he blogs ( that the vast majority of ABCPSW pastors should resign. Read on...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ministerial ethics... again

As the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest continues its move towards withfdrawing from the covenant with the larger denomination, the question has been raised how the code of ethics signed by every clergy person in the region applies.

the code states:

I will hold in trust the traditions and practices of our American Baptist Churches; I will not accept a position in the American Baptist family unless I am in accord with those traditions and practices; nor will I use my influence to alienate my congregation/constituents or any part thereof from its relationship and support of the denomination. If my convictions change, I will resign my position.

In the FAQ sent out by the regions office the question is framed as such:

If the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA, will its pastors be in violation of The Covenant and the Code of Ethics for Professional Church Leaders of The American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.?

The answer to this question is of course, "no." As the regions FAQ says, any body has the right to withdraw from the covenant at any time. That includes regions and individual churches. But the wording of the question makes it a straw man and misses the point of the critique. The code of ethics does not speak to the actions of the region or of the particular churches. It speaks to the actions of the individual church leader - pastor or regional staff person. And it provides a remedy for this current situation - when a church leader disagrees with ABCUSA, rather than using their position to influence their congregation/constituents to leave ABC, they will resign. Notice it does not only say congregations. This is clearly meant to include regional and national staff, missionaries, etc. and other ordained leaders in the denominational family.

One friend asked me whether the code of ethics trumps authority of scripture. Again, the question is a straw man. Nowhere does the code touch on that question. Indeed, if one believes that ABC has discarded authority of scripture as a core value, the code provides an out - resign. Move to another body that holds the same beliefs as you.

It is a question of integrity here. If a person has signed an ethics document - for all intents and purposes, a contract stating how they will behave in the larger family - and does not abide by it, they have no integrity.

So how does this all apply here? Yes, PSW can withdraw, but any staff person providing leadership or encouragement to do so is in violation of the code that he has signed. Yes, individual churches can withdraw from ABC. Any pastor providing leadership heading in that direction is in violation of the code that he or she has signed.

Comment time:

On that logic, how does the Region take action to separate without actual individuals? Implied in the provision that a Region can sever ties with the national body is the reality that some actual human beings may be involved. Again, under this logic, only non-ordained ABC individuals could ethically hold such a position and adovcate such action, both at the regional and local church level.

The illogic of this logic goes deeper and deeper. Should an officer obey an illegal order because his commanding officer gave it to him, or is there a higher obligation which transcends the oath that officer took when he/she enlisted? I would hope Roy would agree with this. Is there no ecclesiastical version of this?

As one who signed said agreement, I can say with a clean conscience that I understood it to mean that I would not abuse my position to alienate my church from ABCUSA. Anyone who knows me know that my attitude's always been stay, stand and reform. We've been deeply involved in ABC life and mission. But what are we to do when the national body goes off a cliff? (Or, the bus gets stalled on the train tracks, as one of the consultants to ABC General Board described it)? Sing Kum-by-ya and jump with them in violation of our Biblically informed conscience? Don't think so.

1 comment:

roy said...

let me reply -
"how does the region take action?" Through it's board and elected officers. Staff are breaking the code of ethics by leading the action.
Should an officer in the military obey an illegal order? No. Should a pastor stay in a denomination with which he or she disagrees on substantive theological grounds? No. And the code of ethics gives a remedy - resign.
What does one do when the national body goes off a cliff? Get off the bus. But the code of ethics each pastor has signed says that he or she will not use their influence to alienate the congregation to leave the denomination. Nowhere in the code does it speak of "abusing one's influence," it speaks only of "using one's influence."
The document is clear. Presumably all of the ordained leaders have signed it. I still don't see how one can come to any other conclusion but resignation or at least an acknowledgement that they are breaking the code which they have signed.