Friday, March 31, 2006
VALLEY FORGE, PA
Zeitgeist Press Reports (April 1, 2006).
In a surprise development, the Southern Baptist Convention announced today that they have closed a deal to purchase the Valley Forge, PA, headquarters of the former Northern Baptists, the American Baptist Churches, USA.
“We felt we needed a ministry center for our expanding presence in the Northeast,” explained SBC spokesman T. Truitt Fogbone. “We became aware the American Baptists were jus’ about broke, so it was a match made in heaven, so to speak.”
Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of the American Baptists, could not be reached for comment. The telephone, fax and email and tin-can phone at his office have all been shut off due to lack of funds. However, his spokesperson, Rev. Dr. Ms. April-Rainbow Woodstock-Bexley-Hall, was available did speak on his behalf.
“We are thrilled,” she said. “Everything is great, just great. I mean, like poverty is a virtue, you know. Everything is good. Really good. I’m not kidding. No I’m serious. Really. Please believe me.”
American Baptist offices will relocate to the campus of nearby Central Baptist Church in Wayne, PA, as soon as the Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered Outreach center can be relocated.
At the risk of sounding like Lloyd Bentsen, I studied under David Scholer, I knew David Scholer--David Scholer was a mentor of mine. But I disagree with him. Here is a letter from the ABCUSA website, with my comments.
February 28, 2006
Dear colleagues and friends,
There is considerable talk these days about biblical authority and soul freedom and their
relationship to each other; I would like to offer some brief reflections on this from my life
experience and study.
Both biblical authority and soul freedom have been Baptist distinctives since our beginnings in
the early 1600s; most Baptists have treasured and nurtured these commitments over the centuries in many different contexts.
Both of these commitments are important and are not opposed to each other; it is never a matter that one of them "trumps" the other. In fact, they work together to safeguard all that is precious to us – the clear and sole authority of Scripture in an environment in which ecclesiastical authorities do not dictate to us what the Scripture teaches. Soul freedom is actually, from a Baptist perspective, the commitment that guards and protects the commitment to biblical authority over against other kinds of authority.
[Comment: this paragraph doesn't make a lick of sense. Either there is divine authority inherent in the Scriptures, or I sit as judge over the over the Scriptures. There is a tension here, and any attempt to deny the same is at least limited in perspective.]
Our history makes it clear that we have recognized from our beginnings that differences arise
among us as to what the Bible teaches on various themes and in multiple contexts. We now
understand quite well that the Bible does require interpretation; that is the responsibility that
goes hand-in-hand with the commitment to biblical authority. And, as a Baptist, I embrace soul
freedom, which allows me the option of my struggle with biblical interpretation in a context in
which I want also to preserve the right of my other Baptist friends to engage in their struggles of interpretation.
[Does soul freedom extend to contesting clear Biblical teaching? If it does, then the whole faith is tohu w'bohu, without form and void.]
I grew up in the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. When I entered my
adulthood and seminary, I realized that the commitment of the GARBC to biblical authority was
actually an enforced commitment to a particular interpretation. I found my new haven of hope in the American Baptists in 1961. I embraced the ABC, knowing both its commitments to biblical authority and to soul freedom. I learned immediately that this meant there were persons within
the ABC with whom I had substantial theological differences. But, I had the freedom to
champion my understandings of the implications of biblical authority in our denomination,
which I have done over the years (e.g., on the issue of the ordination of women and their full
participation in the ministry of the church).
[Again, the phenom of the recovering fundamentalist. Boy am I glad I was spared this background. So many people opt for tohu w'bohu after spending time with the Pharisees--or at least those they perceive as such. Why not hang steady with a faith that is both robustly filled with grace and filled with Scripture?]
I have never regretted my 1961 decision. Further, I see nothing today that is substantially
different than it was in 1961 – there were and are some substantial differences in how various
American Baptists understand biblical authority, but we have not abandoned that commitment.
In fact, our various policy statements speak to many crucial issues in the mainstream of orthodox Christian teachings on sensitive issues. It is our commitment to soul freedom that gives us the opportunity to be genuinely committed to biblical authority. It is crucial that we do not think that our ABC family has failed us in these strong, basic commitments; we do not need to enter again into the disruptions of 1932 and 1947. As a strong evangelical committed to biblical authority, I understand that we weathered those storms and built a family that is a reflection of our basic commitments, which means, of course, a family in which there are some
disagreements, but these pale in light of the commitment to love, integrity, soul freedom and
David M. Scholer
Ordained in the ABC in 1966, Roslindale Baptist Church, Boston, MA
Frequent contributor to the life of our denomination over many years
Member, First Baptist Church, Pasadena, CA
Professor of New Testament, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA
[Dear Dr. S: things have changed. Now is the time to stand against the doctrinal, moral and ethical compromise that stabs like a wound at the heart of our Baptist family. I must respectfully, and in love, disagree.]
His Barking Dog reported on this earlier, but missed the main story: the ABC is the slowest sinking ship among the mainlines. Factor in the liklihood of PSW departure, and check these figures in 2007!
New York, March 30, 2006 -- According to NCC communications officer, Phil Jenks, "The National Council of Churches' 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, one of the nation's oldest and most reliable sources of church membership and growth trends, is reporting this month on a record 219 national church bodies."
"The Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, editor of the 89-year-old annual since 1998, said the number of national church bodies 'is reflective of a remarkably robust immigration history and the cultural and constitutional freedom of religion so characteristic of the United States,'" Jenks writes. Lindner is the NCC's Deputy General Secretary for Research and Planning.Despite mainline losses, Linder's report records continuing growth in a number of non-mainline churches.
Among the largest 25 churches in the U.S., the fastest growing are the Assemblies of God (increasing 1.81 percent to 2,779,095), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (increasing 1.74 percent to 5,999,177) and the Roman Catholic Church (increasing .83 percent to 67,820,833).
Six of the mainline denominations, including the ABCUSA, rank in the top 25 denominations in the U.S. as follows:
#3. The United Methodist Church, 8,186,254 members, reporting a decrease of .79%.
#7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,930,429, reporting a decrease of 1.09%.
#9. Presbyterian Church (USA), 3,189,573 members, reporting a decrease of 1.60%.
#15. Episcopal Church, 2,463,747, reporting a decrease of 1.55%.
#20. American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,432,840, reporting a decrease of .57%.
#21. United Church of Christ, 1,265,786, reporting a decrease of 2.38%.
The ABCUSA decline of .57% was the smallest decrease of the mainline denominations. The UCC registered the steepest drop with 2.38%. Of the mainline church bodies, the ABC has the reputation as having the most conservative theological stance; the UCC with its endorsement of same-sex marriage, represents the most progressive [aka "the most wild-eyed, bug-eyed liberal].
Source: "NCC News" Thu, Mar 30, 2006. http://www.ncccusa.org/news/060330yearbook1.html
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Charles W. Moore, President of Northern Seminary, is departing to pastor a CMA church near Dayton. While attending Geneva College and Bethel Seminary, he served in ministry with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. But upon graduating from seminary, he served at American Baptist churches in Illinois, Ohio, and had a great run at First Baptist Church in Charlotte, Michigan.
Why is he returning to the pastorate--in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church? Is it just a return to roots--or to get out the ABC zoo?
Or a better question: when was the last time a sucessful CMA seminary president left that position to pastor an ABC church?
Samford students hear of fight against sex slavery
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Every country in the world is involved in human trafficking, said Lauran Bethell, international ministries consultant with the American Baptist Churches.
Bethell, speaking with The Alabama Baptist prior to a March 16 lecture at Samford University in Birmingham, said, "All countries are either the origin, the destination or the transit country some, like Thailand, are all three."
The United States is a destination country, she said, the number of people trafficked in the United States is as high as 20,000. The number moves to an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 internationally, according to the State Department, which describes human trafficking as modern-day slavery, in which victims are trapped in forced labor and sexual exploitation.
Bethell, who has worked for decades with exploited and abused women and children, said human trafficking is now the second most profitable illegal trade in the world.
She received Baptist World Alliance's 2005 Human Rights Award and is based at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic. In 1987, she co-founded the New Life Center in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to offer young women vocational training as an alternative to prostitution and to provide rehabilitation for those coming out of prostitution and abusive situations.
It was in founding the center that Bethell got involved in fighting human trafficking.
"When we opened the center, the girls started talking about being tricked and beaten and taken to brothels to work," she said. "The world started waking up to the story in the mid-1990s."
Southern Baptists have been working to stop human trafficking since the late 1990s. Most recently, Southern Baptists promoted the End Demand Act that focuses on ending the demand for prostitution and was signed into law by President Bush in January.
Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) is addressing the issue of trafficking and sex slavery on the side of the victims, said Jean Cullen, WMU missions involvement specialist and coordinator of International Initiatives.
WMU reaches out through churches, holding seminars on trafficking and starting Acteens groups. And through its WorldCrafts program,WMU buys handmade items from artisans worldwide to sell in America. This provides a livelihood for the artisans, some of whom are trying to escape prostitution or trafficking.
Bethell, who spoke at Samford as the 2006 Marie NeSmith Fowler Lecturer in Christianity, Women and Leadership Studies, advised those ministering to victims to research "who is doing what, and why and how they are doing it." Then identify the victim's immediate need.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Cornerstone Church Network Issued two press releases today, reproduced below. Note that one location for the Missional conferences is FBC Pomona, who just voted UNANIMOUSLY in favor of supporting the Region Board (see www.hisbarkingdog.blogspot.com):
Rome Wasn't Built in a Day
by Bill Nicoson
The shaping of any new organization is huge work. It is, at times, extremely overwhelming. Some have questioned why the process is taking so long. While bringing shape and form is truly is a labor of love, it also is a labor that is extremely time intensive.
My friends, this is a work in progress. It will never be finished. To say that it will be completed takes our eyes off Christ. To have everything figured out moves us from trusting in God and puts the "genius" on us. Cornerstone Church Network will always be evolving. We want to go where the Lord is working and work with Him. This means the scope of our mission will always be changing.
I am grateful to the Vision Architects for their dedication and desire to follow God as we endeavor to bring Cornerstone Church Network to life. We have prayed and sought God's direction for this new movement. Our hope is that Cornerstone will be a band of brothers and sisters committed to reaching our world for Christ.
I have a friend who writes, "To lead is to be led. It is to be mastered by the Master. Before we can be driven we need to be drawn. Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Any form of leadership that is independent of the leading the Holy Spirit is immediately and completely disqualified. Leadership in the name of Jesus means that we follow Jesus in everything we do." - Taken from Leadership Under the Radar by Douglas Webster.
Why Join Cornerstone?
We want to take the world for Christ and we want you on our team. Our network will connect you with leaders who sharpen and encourage you. We won't hire experts in specialized fields of service but we will put you in touch with successful practitioners that see the big picture as it relates to God's kingdom.
You don't have to change your current situation to become a member. All we are asking is that your church pastor sign our Statement of Faith, which will be renewed annually, and commit financially to support Cornerstone. The annual membership fees will be fairly based upon your church's budget. You can pay either a lump sum or spread it out through mission giving.
As a member, you must agree to be either a mentoring, teaching or coaching church, or to be mentored, taught or coached by another Cornerstone church. This gives us accountability and fosters relationships with one another.
Cornerstone is a home for those who have no place to go or who have been waiting for this new movement to develop. Our commitment is to serve local churches and help them to do mission together. We do not intend to compete with or take from other denominations or regions, etc. Our aim is to enhance the ministry and effectiveness of the local church.
We are having several Missional Churches Conferences in May and one in April throughout the country (a list of conferences appears in this issue of eConnections). You can register for these conferences on our web site at http://www.ccnetonline.org/. We'll be distributing membership applications at the conferences, plus a downloadable version will be available on our web site commencing April 25.
Best Practice Churches
On another front, Cornerstone is in the process of identifying best practice churches. The purpose of this will be to strengthen our network in terms of resources. For example, if your church wants to know who is doing small groups well we will be able to provide you with the top five or six churches that have a best practice in that area. We also intend to partner with other groups who will provide many opportunities for churches to participate in ministry - groups like International Justice Mission, Wycliffe Bible Translators and others. We are currently investigating other outreach organizations that are having an amazing impact among Muslims. Again, we want to serve the local church. Nothing more. We are here for you.
The challenge for you and for me is to think about the future. Keep your eye on the prize. Phil. 3:12, "I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize." (CEV)
Missional Church Conferences
An Introduction to Cornerstone Church Network Cornerstone Church Network is sponsoring conferences where you can learn more about who we are and what we do. We're grateful to these churches for offering their facilities and for their support. Then in September, we're planning a national conference to officially launch Cornerstone Church Network. We'll announce details of those plans soon. Check out the areas where we'll be meeting and make plans to attend a meeting near you. To reserve a spot, please visit our web site at http://www.ccnetonline.org/ and register for the conference you want to attend. Include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address and the date of the conference.
Tuesday, April 25 - 1:00 p.m.
Windsor Baptist Church
213 Little Conestoga Road
Uwchland, Pennsylvania 19480
Paul E. Chaya, Pastor
Tuesday, May 2 - 10:00 a.m. - includes a hosted lunch
First Baptist Church of Marshalltown
700 Olive Street
Marshalltown, IA 50158
Richard Sipe, Sr. Pastor
Tuesday, May 9 - 1:00 p.m.
Burncoat Baptist Church
475 Burncoat Street
Worcester, MA 01606
James A. Fontaine, Pastor
Thursday, May 11 - 1:00 p.m.
Karl Road Baptist Church
5750 Karl Road
Columbus, Ohio 43228
John Kirn, Contact
Tuesday, May 16 - 1:00 p.m
Holiday Inn1616 West Crawford Street
Salina, KS 67402
(Holiday Inn number: 785-823-1739)
Jim Bridges Contact person 785-825-4643
Thursday, May 18-21
ABC-NW Annual Meeting
Bill Nicoson will speak at a breakfast meeting.
Jim Amend, Contact
Tuesday, May 23 - 1:00 p.m.
First Baptist Church of Pomona
586 N. Main StreetPomona, CA 91768
Glenn Gunderson, Sr. Pastor
Thursday, May 25 - 1:00 p.m.
Peters Creek Baptist Church
6300 Library Road
South Park, PA 15129
Gregory Adkins, Sr. Pastor
Monday, March 27, 2006
Multiple sources today sent me information about an ordained American Baptist pastor in an Northeastern state which has made same-sex so-called marriage legal--an individual who has been very active in denominational affairs who sent out the following invitation:
“On Saturday, [date], we celebrated our commitment to one another and to God in a Service of Covenant at the [X] Baptist Church in [city, state]. It was a joyous event made even more special by the attendance of loved ones from around the country.
"On Saturday, [date], 2006, at 7:00 p.m., we will recommit ourselves to one another and to God in a Service of Marriage at the [X] Baptist Church in [city], [address] in [city, state]. This event, while important and entered into reverently, will be casual in nature and followed by a reception of light hors d’oeuvres and desserts.
"In body or in spirit, we welcome and cherish the gift of your presence and prayers. We request that other gifts not be offered.”
[Male name] and [male name]
I met this gentleman years ago, briefly, before he "came out." He is a winsome a gracious person who also served for a time in a denominational role.
But I must stand with the Word of God. I can do no other.
Is this the American Baptist family of Adoniram Judson, A.H. Strong and Carl Henry? Not anymore.
Who are the schismatics? Is it those who stand with the Scriptures, or those who war with the plain meaning of its text?
As David Wells, my old theology professor at Gordon-Conwell put it, "We experience apostolic sucession when we believe what the apostles taught." We stand with apostolic teaching:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practise them. (from Romans 1, NSRV)
My flattering words must have encouraged him! Dennis (www.hisbarkingdog.blogspot.com) McFadden is back with more on the basics on the ABC situation. Also, check out his report and commentary on the "debate" between Bob Roberts and Dale Salico held at FBC Santa Ana.
An "His Barking Dog" Primer for Fellow Conservatives (Part 2) -
How Do We Understand the Left Anyhow?
In a previous blog, His Barking Dog identified and discussed three windows or "templates" for understanding the actions of the leadership of the ABCUSA. They were:
* The Template of Justice
* The Template of Inadequate Generalization OR Seeing Only as Far as the Horizon
* The Template of "The Myth of the Center"
In this blog, we turn to several other windows into the mindset of our friends on the left.
The Template of Avoiding the "Tyranny of the Majority"
In the United States one of the most divisive issues centers around questions of appropriate mention of Christianity in the public sphere. During the most recent Christmas season, numbers of conservative Christians engaged in active boycott of retail stores unwilling to use the word "Christmas" in their advertising. Yet, while the ACLU and many in the media complain about Christian images in the public arena, the same rules do not always apply to minority religious groups such as Islam or the "religion" of atheism. At the root of the concern there appears to be more going on than Christian-bashing. Americans often have a reflexive reaction to what they perceive to be a tyranny of the majority.
In the ABC, we consciously solicit and cater to identified minority groups, particularly those who have been the victims of hatred, violence, or bigoted mischaracterization. Whether the affinity is founded on race or ethnicity, American Baptists will find a way to "look out for them." The response of Valley Forge leaders to AWAB closely follows this approach to other groups in our midst. In my experience with national leadership, to a person, they speak of AWAB in the same protective and paternalistic manner which they often extend to our various caucuses. Even if some of them do not fully endorse the "gay agenda," their concern to protect the unprotected will compel them to extend themselves quite far in the direction of the AWAB movement.
Conservatives need to appreciate the natural desire progressives have to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. Their fears about gay ordination mask a deep concern that conservatives want to ignore ministry to sexually broken persons, to stigmatize them with a modern scarlet letter, and to objectify them in prejudicial and bigoted ways. They view themselves as the upholders of justice and fair play towards all marginalized peoples; it is a Gospel mandate.
The Template of an Anti-Fundamentalist Bias
The Northern Baptist movement, although incorporated almost two decades earlier, was shaped in the formative decade of the 1920s when the challenge of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy was in full bloom. That, and the bitter lessons of the CBA schism in the 1940s, left the denomination with a strong anti-fundamentalist bias. Decades of Colgate Rochester and Andover Newton trained leadership only reinforced the hegemony of the left over national leadership.
In such an environment, anything resembling a call for "biblical authority" will be stigmatized as crypto fundamentalism at best, and outright fundamentalism at worst. Along with this comes an aversion to those who attend evangelical seminaries. I vividly remember a 4:00 p.m. afternoon session with the General Secretary at the Green Lake Seminarians' Conference of 1976. The then General Secretary informed me, without any trace of malice or hostility in his voice, that I would never amount to anything in the ABC due to my attendance at a non-ABC seminary (he was correct, by the way).
Ironically, while many conservatives are quite well read in the literature of the left, it is rare to find a progressive who has even a passing understanding (let alone sympathy) with the intelligent evangelical writers (Kate Harvey being one very notable exception). Within the PSW, a major point of tension between those promoting withdrawal and those staunchly advocating for continued fellowship with the ABCUSA relates to this difference in language and mindset. The "loyal" American Baptists are as often fighting the old fundamentalist-modernist wars as they are upholding "Baptist principles." Their misplaced (I believe) fear of fundamentalism animates much of the debate.
Conservatives on the right need to understand the legitimate (and sometimes ill founded) fears of our sisters and brothers on the left. They honestly believe that if we gain an inch we will fight for a mile and the result will be a denomination of racist, ignorant, authoritarian, fundamentalists.
The Template of "Bureaucratization and Lift" OR "Where you stand has a lot to do with where you sit"
A quarter of a century ago church growth theorist C. Peter Wagner used to speak of the phenomenon of "redemption and lift." By this he referred to the tendency for new Christians to have large numbers of non-Christian friends. But, as they matured in their faith and became more committed to their church, their circle of unchurched friends shrunk proportionately. In an ironic twist, a process of "bureaucratization and lift" often functions in the selection, training, and promotion of national leaders in a denomination.Beginning as a working pastor, finding a place on a regional staff, becoming an executive minister, taking on a national leadership role all come with a process of bureaucratization. Recently, a pastor formerly known as a bit of a fire brand became a domesticated bureaucrat by means of moving from the pastorate to the role as an executive minister.
One can hardly expect regional executives, paid by their regions but accountable to national ABC leadership, to be anything other than conflicted. And, the longer they sit in their seats of power, the less likely it is that they will be able to resist the process of bureaucratization. No aspersion is intended toward the ministry of management or the administrative role (I "are" one). My point simply concerns the fact that people in bureaucratic positions cannot help but be preoccupied with issues of institutional survival. In this context, trying to "keep peace in the family" will almost always trump issues of right, wrong, or truth.
Conservatives should be sensitive to the genuine difficulty judicatory and national leaders have seeing the big picture. Legitimate concerns for institutional survival motivate some of the hyper-protective and seemingly paranoid behavior exhibited by some of our regional and national leaders.
The Template of Identity and the Meaning of "Baptist"
In my experience, our national leadership and most progressive Baptists share a primary identity as "Baptists." Being a Baptist, explicating the meaning of being Baptist, and proclaiming one's identity as a Baptist assumes pride of place in the self understanding of most of those on the left. Ecumenical outreach principally relates to efforts to cooperate with and include mainline Christians in joint efforts, often focused on justice issues. Affiliation with the six other mainline denominations often comes across as a point of pride. Work with evangelical denominations does not often appear on their radar screen, nor does it excite them very much.
Conservatives, on the other hand, tend to see their Baptist identity differently. While equally committed to the commonly established Baptist distinctives, they often prefer the designation "evangelical" to "Baptist" as a primary designator. Ecumenical efforts often focus on co-religionists within the orbit of evangelicalism (including Pentecostals, Nazarenes, conservative Presbyterians, Free Methodists, Independents, etc.) . They would, for example, almost never speak of themselves as part of the "mainline" movement, even viewing with shame the connections we do have to the UCC, Disciples of Christ, UMC, etc. The NCC and WCC are typically perceived as unholy alliances with groups that have surrendered a commitment to Christ and his Gospel.
The result of such differences in language mirror shifts of mindset that can be seen in the mutual animosity and sense of threat each faction perceives in the other. The language of the left comes across as off-putting, particularly with its preoccupation with matters of absolute notions of "Baptist" autonomy. The vocabulary and grammar of the right appears rigid, legalistic, and even fundamentalistic to those on the left.
Conservatives would do well to apprehend the significant differences in perspective and point of view. The same words (e.g., NCC, WCC, "ecumenical," "evangelical") often carry radically different connotative meanings within our broader ABC family. Among those on the left, for example, use of the term "evangelical" is often taken to mean "racist." This was one of the problems with the name of the American Baptist Evangelicals. It was off-putting to many in the African-American community despite large areas of theological agreement. When national leadership speaks of "diversity," on the other hand, it often strikes the ears of conservatives as a cipher for throwing out the Bible in favor of the Zeitgeist popular in today's secular society. Those on the left react as negatively to the PSW annual meeting which featured a Willow Creek pastor as those on the right do to the inclusion of Harvey Cox in the upcoming regional meeting in Massachusetts.
Again, what can be gleaned from the differences separating us? I continue to maintain that we must be civil, amiable, and Christian in our dealings with those with whom we disagree. However, in the ABC we simply cannot continue doing mission together any longer. Our goals, values, and central concerns do not permit us to work conjointly.
Sunday, March 26, 2006
BREAKING NEWS: First Baptist Church of Temple City Votes Overwhelmingly to Support the Pacific Southwest Region
Today the members of the First Baptist Church of Temple City, California, voted overwhelmingly to support their region, the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest.
92% voted to amend the church's constitution to remove American Baptist specific language. 2/3 were needed to amend.
85% voted to support the region's board recommendation to separate from ABCUSA. That means that 10 of 12 delegates at the April 29 meeting of the churches will be instructed to vote yes, 2 no. The item was worded in such a way that if the PSW proceeds to separation following the April 29 meeting, FBC Temple City will also suspend ties with ABCUSA.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
When I urged Dennis McFadden to blog, this was the kind of blog I knew he could produce to put the ABC impasse into context. I here reproduce his entire most recent post. Thanks for the reference, Dennis.
A Primer for Fellow Conservatives - How Do We Understand the ABC Leadership Anyhow?
A Primer for Fellow Conservatives
By Dennis E. McFadden
In the midst of the current ABC crisis, many of us conservatives in the Pacific Southwest simply do not understand why the ABCUSA officials act as they do. For evangelicals, it is often a simple matter of asking themselves: "what is 'biblical'?” Many report that they cannot even comprehend why the issue of human sexuality, so often discussed in scripture, is even an open question in the denomination. Here are some of the mitigating factors as I see them, offered as a kind of "primer" for fellow conservatives. The windows chosen are "templates" for viewing and understanding the current debates.
The Template of Justice
Many of the leaders of the ABCUSA were formed and shaped in the environment of the civil rights struggle. For them, the most significant accomplishment of their adult lives was the creation of the most ethnically diverse mainline denomination in the country. Never mind that it exists by means of Rube Goldberg like structural artifices, buttressed by quotas, complicated rotational schemes, and representational formulas insuring minority participation. They fear that if the ABC deconstructs to a pre-1907 society model, we will inevitably drift back into racist, even Jim Crow, patterns.
This helps explain why an ardent defender of civil rights such as my friend, the Rev. Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins III, went out of his way on January 29, 2006, to affirm the “progressive” nature of the Seattle First Baptist Church affiliated with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists. Preaching there he explained that upon arrival at the church he asked his wife to take his picture in front of the sign reading “A Welcoming and Affirming” congregation. This brought the expected hearty applause from the congregation. Then, during the sermon, Aidsand repeatedly thanked and affirmed the church for who they are and for their progressive vision. He assured them that we are a better and more just denomination because of the presence, the witness, and the efforts of Seattle FBC.
How progressive is Seattle FBC anyway? This is a church which advertises itself as having a distinctive of "incorporating the 'eastern-leaning' nature of the spiritual quest of many of our members. Many members rooted in Christian faith seek illumination from Buddhist, Hindu, and Eastern sources.”
And, when it comes to marriage, they believe in strict equality:"At Seattle First Baptist, we believe in marriage equality. We support marriage for all couples, same sex couples and opposite sex couples. We do not discriminate. We plan unique weddings for each couple. Your wedding will be designed to reflect your own relationship and the commitment the two of you are making. On the day of your wedding, all couples will be given a 'Certificate of the Covenant of Marriage' by the church. We look forward to the day when all couples can be licensed to marriage by the State of Washington."
It might be taken as somewhat anomalous that the Executive Director of a national board in the ABCUSA (i.e., the Board of National Ministries), presumably bound by the 1992 resolution on human sexuality, would go so far out of his way (e.g., the photograph in front of the AWAB sign and the comments to the congregation) to affirm what national policy calls “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Aidsand’s enthusiastic endorsement of Seattle FBC, however, does not mean that he necessarily agrees with the particular beliefs of the congregation on human sexuality. Indeed, he has gone out of his way to say that the homosexual fight is not “his issue.” Rather, we should see this as part of a belief shared by ABC upper level management that justice requires us to accept a very broad and inclusive table theologically as well as ethnically.
Unless conservatives attempt to view life from the perspective of "justice" as the progressives understand it, we will be continually left scratching our heads in bewilderment at their actions. Seen from their perspective, even suffering the loss of the entire denomination would be better than surrendering ground on the issue of "justice."
Evangelicals should substitute the word "biblical authority" for the word "justice" and do a thorough "gut check." How open would we be to yielding on an issue of biblical authority, even if refusing to give in would lead to terrible consequences? The left has just as great a visceral commitment to "justice" as we do to "biblical authority."
The Template of Inadequate Generalization OR Seeing Only as Far as the Horizon.
Many years ago a famous columnist was reported to have objected to the election of Richard Nixon by saying, “How could he be elected President, nobody I know voted for him?” Obviously, we are all prone to see the world as only as large as the part we inhabit. We often generalize that the whole is just like “here,” only bigger.
Such erroneous assumptions animate many of the conservatives when we wonder how this could even be a live issue. Nobody we know believes that the Bible is to be interpreted in such a revisionistic way. So too, ABC leaders are often hamstrung by the same phenomenon from the opposite side.
In the northeast, for example, many ABC congregations are weak and forced into dual alignments for reasons of survival. One of the most popular arrangements has ABC-UCC linkage. The infamous precipitating cause of last year’s arguments in the Ministers Council Senate was the marriage of a Massachusetts senator to her lesbian lover. That minister serves a church affiliated with both the ABC and the UCC. Arguably, the UCC represents the most liberal and progressive mainline denomination in America. They have already endorsed gay marriage, for example.
Following my maxim, “Where you sit has a lot to do with where you stand,” national leaders can hardly be expected to see the genuine theological diversity of the ABC when the environment in which they serve is so laden with center-left churches and pastors.
Consider the State of the Region Address (September 24, 2005) delivered by the Rev. Alan G. Newton, Executive Minister of the left-leaning American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region of New York State. Writing about the contemplated PSW withdrawal from the ABC, he said:"We have a deeply fractured denomination as evident in the decision of the region board of the Pacific Southwest this past week to withdraw from the ABC-USA. Other regions or clusters of churches in regions may follow. The claim is that the divisive issue is biblical authority. In truth the issue is biblical interpretation and the determination of a sizeable minority to impose their interpretation of scriptures on other."
[A "claim"? I take him seriously--why can't he take us seriously? Perhaps the false paradigm that says all opinion is a matter of power--GL]
Note that Newton apparently believes that the “interpretation of scriptures” respecting homosexual marriage and ordination held by conservatives represents the position of a “minority,” albeit a “sizeable” one in the ABC. One might still possibly argue that Newton thinks a majority of American Baptists hold to a traditional view, but that only a sizable minority actually seeks to act on that belief.
What exactly Dr. Newton meant must be left for further exploration. However, the pattern among many Valley Forge leaders has been to explain the diversity of attidues in the denomination by a 10-80-10 rule. Repeatedly I have heard that we are a party of the center with a left fringe and a right fringe. Since most VF leaders view themselves as centrists, they expect 80% or so of the people to be where they are, give or take a few percent. By definition, then, if some conservative objects to the party line or acts adversarily, he must be part of the 10% that can safely be dismissed.
In the 1990s I conducted a statistically based survey of ABC pastoral leadership as part of a thesis for a graduate degree in management. Using a systematic random sample of ABC leaders (secured by Dr. Craig Collemer), and receiving a 49% response to my survey, yielded interesting results. Less than 20% (19.7% if memory serves me) of ABC pastors had any willingness to support the ordination of practicing homosexuals. When one considers that many of these were people who opposed homosexual practice but demurred from interfering in an ordination for “Baptist polity” reasons, the statistic becomes all the more significant. The evangelical position on this subject is NOT a minority view within the ABC no matter how it appears to national leadership.
Unless conservatives recognize the skewed perspective of the left, bolstered as it is by the insulating factors of the northeast milieu, we will never begin to grasp why they hold so insistently to their point of view. Quite simply, they truly believe that we are the minority trying to foist our will upon the majority of the denomination.
The Template of “The Myth of the Center.”*
Dr. Glenn Layne, a trained political scientist with a graduate degree in the same, was the first to tip me off to the reality that in America, everyone wants to believe that their view is in the “center” of the political landscape. Due to our rich history of democracy and its leveling influence, nobody likes to see themselves as out of the mainstream. Valley Forge personnel continually affirm that they are a “centrist” lot. None of them, it seems, can come to grips with where they stand vis a vis the full demographic diversity of the ABC. Psychologically this becomes a very difficult temptation to resist. Particularly when one has friends, colleagues, and family members who hold strongly more progressive viewpoints, one can easily assume that one’s own position is all the more centrist by comparison. Dr. Medley, in particular, has regular association with mainline leaders in his circle of family and peers (e.g., NCC) who stand considerably to the left of him.
Unless conservatives take note of the very human (or at least American) tendency to view oneself as being in the "middle," we will not be able to penetrate the mindset of the left. They, like those of us on the right, are absolutely convinced that their point of view is reasonable and fair.
Having tried to "walk a mile" in the shoes of our friends on the left, what are we to do? Love them, pray for them, seek to understand them, and recognize that we can no longer do mission with them.
There are a few other windows through which we may see and more fully understand the ABC mess. As time allows, they will appear in a future blog.
*The exact term I have used is "the fallacy of the false center." (GL)
Friday, March 24, 2006
Afghan Christian 'likely to be released soon': official
Mar 24 2:24 PM US/Eastern
An Afghan Christian facing possible execution for converting from Islam was likely to be released from jail "soon," a senior government official said following huge Western pressure over the case.
"He is likely to be released soon," the official said, adding there would be a top-level meeting on the matter Saturday.
Abdul Rahman was arrested two weeks ago under Islamic Sharia law and faced a possible death sentence in a case that has attracted widespread condemnation, especially from the United States.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday to step up pressure to free 41-year-old Rahman, who converted in Germany 16 years ago and was turned in by his parents on his return to Afghanistan.
Rice said she phoned Karzai to hammer home "in the strongest possible terms" Washington's concern over the proceedings against Rahman.
"There is no more fundamental issue for the United States than freedom of religion and religious conscience," she said.
Rice also raised the issue in a meeting Wednesday with visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
President George W. Bush said he was "deeply troubled" by the case.
In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he telephoned Karzai on Wednesday to express concern about a possible execution and "he conveyed to me that we don't have to worry about any such eventual outcome."
Karzai "assured me that what's alarmed most of us will be worked out quickly ... in a way that fully respects religious rights, religious freedoms and human rights," Harper added.
Afghanistan's Supreme Court said Thursday it was trying to find a "good solution" to the case, the first of its kind here, including persuading Rahman to revert to Islam.
Sharia law, on which the Afghan constitution is partly based, rules that conversion away from Islam must be punished by death if the accused person fails to revert.
Thursday, March 23, 2006
United Methodist study shows sizable drop in younger clergy
WASHINGTON (AP) - United Methodist Church clergy under age 35 were 15 percent of the total in 1985 but only 4.7 percent two decades later, according to a Wesley Theological Seminary survey.
The data on "elders" (including those commissioned but not fully ordained) also showed that those age 55 and above increased from 27 percent to 41 percent during the same two decades.
The report included these figures for under-35 clergy in other "mainline" Protestant denominations: American Baptist Churches (5.5 percent), Christian Church_Disciples (5.5 percent), Episcopal Church (4.1 percent), Evangelical Lutheran Church (4.9 percent) and Presbyterian Church (7.1 percent).
For Roman Catholic priests, the total as of 2001 was even lower, 3.1 percent.
By contrast, the conservative Church of the Nazarene reported 12.7 percent of its clergy are under 35.
Wesley Seminary's Lovett Weems Jr., the project director, said organizations decline as they "fail to attract quality young leaders," which affects the "vitality of the church."
What would really be interesting would be to compare date from Assembly of God, Southern Baptist, Evangelical Free, Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, etc., as well as the non-affiliated megachurches.
Two recent posts over at Dennis McFadden's His Barking Dog (www.hisbarkingdog.blogspot.com) on the recent ABC GEC meetings hit the nail. Paint a pig and take it to a dance, it's still a pig. Paint a meltdown call it a revival, it's still a disaster. Some excerpts:
REVISED and EXPANDED COMMENTARY by Dennis E. McFaddenRecent
Reports of the ABC General Board Executive Committee meeting earlier this month...have highlighted the quality of the meeting described as a "revival." No, it was not an old fashioned "revival." But, Alice Davis argues, "if the purpose of a revival is to renew people's spirits, then that meeting fits into the category."
His Barking Dog was interested in two of the decisions that emerged from the meeting of the GBEC. Again, we quote from Alice Davis:
First, the decision to move to one General Board meeting a year won unanimous support. This was a strategically and fiscally sound decision that was necessary to deal with the budget issues that are facing the Office of the General Secretary and the Representative Process. As many of you know, the need to make this adjustment has come upon us because of changes in the Common Budget Covenant, changes in the churches' giving patterns and the potential loss of some of our covenanting churches. The second decision is the agreement to have a smaller group meet very soon to focus specifically on and make recommendations for changes that are needed to address the present environs. The Summit Meeting will take place in May, and will provide a vitally necessary time to think strategically about how we operate.
Unpacking the language a bit, Davis reports that the money is not there to support two General Board meetings each year. Therefore, the executive committee unanimously supported the recommendation to reduce such meetings to one. Interestingly enough, Davis cites as reasons for the action the reduced availability of funds, the changes in "giving patterns," and the "potential loss of some of our covenanting churches" (e.g., PSW???).
Secondly, the group tasked a "smaller group" to meet in May to "think strategically about how we operate." Counting in the ABC yields strange anomalies. First, with membership statistics cited as 1.4 - 1.5 million (according to Valley Forge statements), we already suffer the embarrassing situation that our much touted missions program only fields one missionary for every 12,000 members. Second, when one turns to the cost of maintaining the representative process, the approximately 120 members of the General Board cost the denomination an insignificant amount of money per member of an ABC congregation. Assuming that a Green Lake visit will average $1,000 per person (airfare plus ground costs), that means that each American Baptist would only need to contribute ten cents to make the "representative process" happen.
What will be the unintended consequences from the shift to one meeting per year? Most organizations meeting infrequently discover that their boards become little more than rubber stamps for the decisions of the staff. If the General Board (hardly a "representative" sample of ABC members due to the complicated formulas for selection) , only meets one time annually, does it not follow that they will meet largely to "get on board" with each other, to have a couple of devotionals and worship experiences, and to rubber stamp the activities of the various Valley Forge staffers? If anything, this will only further the alienation experienced in so many of the regions already. Confirmation for the speculations in the last paragraph were buttressed this morning by a conversation with a person who served almost four years on the Executive Committee of the ABC General Board. In his estimation, the "heavy lifting" of the denomination is done in the GBEC. Valley Forge staffers "tolerate" or "put up" with the General Board as a necessary inconvenience, he says. He volunteered that there was probably a collective "Hallelujah" expressed by those in the "holy donut" (sic) at word that GB meetings will be reduced from two to one. Clearly, the actions by the GBEC show that in their estimation, the General Board is NOT WORTH TEN CENTS (the approximate cost per ABC member to hold a GB meeting). The support of this opinion by insiders such as the person referenced in the previous paragraph only reinforce this reality.
In the deliberately obtuse language of bureaucracy, one might also miss the meaning of the purpose for the Summit Meeting. We are told that a smaller group will assemble "to focus specifically on and make recommendations for changes that are needed to address the present environs. The Summit Meeting will take place in May, and will provide a vitally necessary time to think strategically about how we operate." In the "present environs" of last summer the ABNS turned a radical proposal by the Michigan region (with only one dissenting vote!) to dismantle the General Board, Office of the General Secretary, and apparatus of the ABCUSA into a bland call for unspecified changes in structure. If the Summit Meeting seeks to look at ABC problems systematically and structurally, a Michigan like recommendation would be difficult to avoid. However, expecting such strategic thinking will doubtless lead to disappointment. This is the same group, afterall, that was unable to find a way to prevent PSW from taking the question of withdrawal to an unprecedented region-wide plebiscite.
Maybe I'm just a wee bit more optimistic that Dennis the Dog McFadden. Apply enough heat, light just may result...
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
John Eby, the director of ABE before Bill Nicoson speculates on the Beacon Churches message board:
The announcement of Denton Lotz's retirement gave me pause to consider who might be his replacement. With the SBC out of the BWA, the ABC ends up being the largest representative member. [This technically is not accurate.] This would put Roy Medley in a good postion to be elected as Denton's replacement. Does anyone else have any thoughts about a possible replacement? Would this position provide the prestige that Roy would find to his satisfaction? And it seems to me that he could really extricate himself from the pressure he is under in the present position and find more prestige and also really feel himself to be involved in minstry that will be much more rewarding spiritually. He probably has the heart for the BWA position to do a much better job than he is able to accomplish at ABCUSA. If he were to leave, it would provide the denomination a chance to call a much more conservative GS, whose call could be influenced heavily by the Parchment Valley Execs. The more I think about it, if it were to happen, it would be a win-win-win move for the ABCUSA, BWA, and Roy.
Now, why didn't I think of that? Run, Roy, run! And we'll have on with the Michiagn Initiative, abolish the Office of General Secretary, abolish the General Board, and maybe get the renewed ABC we've been looking for.
Just dreamin', I guess.
OK, I finally have a moment. As promised...
Last Sunday evening the good folks of my church got together to discuss the PSW/ABCUSA impasse. We have been allotted 12 delegates, and we had made a decision to place the issue before the congregation: do we support the decision of ABCPSW to separate from ABCUSA? We'll be voting Sunday morning (in the Sunday School hour, between the services).
I made a 25 minute PowerPoint presentation giving the background and the issues. (If you ask me really nice, I'll email it to you; get me at email@example.com.)
I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the questions. A few expressed concerns about a loss of autonomy (some were unaware of the policy of PSW about "welcoming and affirming" congregations, adopted back in 1995, in the wake of the dismissals of churches from ABC of the West). A few expressed concerns about either "singling out" homosexuals or about timing. All in all, in the 100 minutes were were together, everybody either asked their question and/or had their say.
One of the most interesting moments was when one of our young bucks, Keith A., asked the two retired pastors present what they thought. One, ordained five years before I was born, compared it to the pain of a divorce--but a necessary divorce. The other, my predecessor, Doug B., said, "Well...I support my pastor and I support my region."
I'll tell you, the reader, how things went after Sunday's vote.
As the pastor of a church that's becoming more and more Asian, with a Japanese Christian national as our organist-accompanist, this item caught my eye. I've been VERY BUSY lately and have some items to blog up soon...stay tuned.
The latest Gallup poll revealed a much higher percentage of Christians in Japan compared to previous surveys, including a surprising high number of teens who claimed the Christian faith, the Christian Post reports. In a country where only one percent is Christian among those who claim a faith, findings from one of the most extensive surveys of the country ever taken showed a Christian population of six percent. The popular, traditional religions – Buddhism and Shintoism – suffered declines. Of the 30 percent of adults who claimed to have a religion, 75 percent considered themselves Buddhists, 19 percent Shintoists and 12 percent Christians, according to Gallup. Of the 20 percent of youths who professed to have a religion, 60 percent called themselves Buddhists, 36 percent Christians and Shintoists. "These projections mean that seven percent of the total teenage population say they are Christians," said George Gallup Jr., who called the numbers "stunning."
Saturday, March 18, 2006
I had lunch the other day with a pastor from an adjoining city here in the greater Los Angeles area. One thing about life in the "Southland" that can be a bit disorienting is that fact that adjoining towns can be so dissimilar economically and ethnically. For example, where I live, the cities of Temple City and Arcadia are now over 60% Asian (mostly Mandarin-speaking Chinese). Go south over the town line to El Monte, and that city is 70% Hispanic.
Go to my friend's city, and it's a third African-American. He's black (with movie star good looks to boot!) and his church is a grand old African-American congregation. He was raised in the church, and on the "History Wall" in their fellowship hall, there's a picture of him as a child--with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
So there's no doubt that he has "cred" when it comes to Civil Rights Issues. So where does this African-American (and ABC) pastor come out on the issue of homosexuality and civil rights?
"I was at our local ministerial meeting last week," he recounted. "We were talking about the association's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observance. It was a grand time.
"We brought in [a certain speaker] who mentioned something about how it wasn't right to equate racial equality with the homosexual issue--he said it just in passing.
"Well, another pastor in [that city] said to me that he was offended by that. He said that he was gay, and that he saw the struggle of gay people for equal rights as an extension of the Civil Rights Movement.
"Funny, I thought. Your ancestors weren't kidnapped from Gayland from their gay parents and put on a ship through the Middle Passage. They didn't work under the lash of straight slaveowners from over three hundred years.
"It's an insult to African-Americans to say it's the same. It's not. It's not what my Bible says. And I'll stand with the Bible."
Well said, friend. Stand with God's word. That's the call.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Gay activists arrested at Liberty, target 4 other Baptist colleges
By Robert Marus
Published March 15, 2006
LYNCHBURG, Va. (ABP) -- Styling themselves after the famous Freedom Riders of the civil-rights era, a group of gay-rights activists is targeting Baptist and other Christian colleges with a cross-country bus trip that is part teach-in, part protest.
The "Equality Ride," organized by the religious gay-rights group Soulforce, began with a bang March 10. That day, about two dozen participants were arrested for trespassing after they tried to walk onto the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty, founded by Southern Baptist pastor and Religious Right leader Jerry Falwell, had
refused to allow the riders on its property. Soulforce is headquartered in Lynchburg and was co-founded by Mel White, who, before revealing the truth about his sexual orientation, worked as a ghost writer for Falwell and other prominent Christian conservatives.
Falwell earlier released a statement saying he opposed allowing the group on campus because he believes Soulforce "is not acting in good faith and is simply trying to use such encounters on Christian college campuses as a media attraction and for their ultimate purpose of fundraising."
According to Soulforce, there are approximately 30 young adults participating in the trip, which was inspired by the 1961 Freedom Rides that protested segregated interstate bus travel in the South. The Equality Riders are protesting Christian colleges, a Mormon school, two military academies and the ROTC program at a state school -- all of which have policies the group considers anti-gay.
"At military and religious colleges around the nation, bans on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender enrollment force students into closets of fear and self-hate," said the website equalityride.org.
The statement said the group would attempt to educate students and school administrators at each stop on the seven-week tour. "Through dialogue with administrators and discussions with students, the young activists of the Equality Ride will make clear the harmful effects of the false notion that homosexuality is a 'sickness and a sin,' and 'a threat to the nation and the military,'" it said.
The tour's first two stops have apparently provided little opportunity for such dialogue. Following the March 10 arrests at Liberty, the group ran into similar opposition March 13-14 at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. That school, founded by conservative broadcaster Pat Robertson, refused to allow the riders to set foot on campus.
According to an Equality Ride press statement, officials from the group struck a deal with Regent administrators to set up tables on public property in front of the school and hand out materials or have discussions there. But campus security guards then prevented students from leaving campus to talk to the Equality Riders.
On March 14, six protesters reportedly were arrested after attempting to enter the Regent campus. However, beforehand, the group met at a restaurant across the street with Regent students who oppose the school's policy.
Several of the Baptist schools targeted by the ride plan less confrontational ways of dealing with the group -- ranging from polite indifference to a series of dialogues with administrators, faculty and student leaders.
At Union University in Jackson, Tenn., which is affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, President David Dockery sent a letter to students, employees and supporters explaining how his school would deal with the planned March 18 visit.
Union will not bar the riders from the campus, Dockery said, but also will not sponsor any official interactions. "While we will seek to be kind and gracious in every way, it would be irresponsible for us to offer any public forum on such serious issues to a group of individuals that we do not know and who do not know us," Dockery wrote. "This group has no investment in or accountability to the academic community or campus life of Union University."
Likewise, a spokesman for Oklahoma Baptist University -- scheduled for a March 23-24 visit from the riders -- said the institution would neither bar nor legitimate the group. Marty O'Gwynn, the school's vice president for communications, said in a March 14 telephone interview that the campus is open -- with two public streets passing through it -- and that the Soulforce riders will be given the same access as any visitors.
"We are not planning to ban them from the campus, as we would not ban people from our campus if they come to visit the common areas," he said. However, O'Gwynn added, "Because of our human-sexuality policy, we are not able to co-host something with a group that's speaking against our policy."
Students would not be barred from contact with the riders, as long as the contact is welcomed and not done to create the appearance of an official forum. "If they strike up a conversation with students that are willing to talk to them, they can discuss their concerns … similar to how we present our testimony as evangelicals," O'Gwynn said.
At two other Baptist schools on the route, however, administrators plan educational events in conjunction with the ride's organizers. Bethel University, a Baptist General Conference-related school in St. Paul, Minn., will host a series of campus events surrounding the ride's April 18 visit.
They will include debates and other forums on homosexuality and Christianity, a forum with the riders, potential dialogues with student leaders, as well as informal interaction between riders and students, upon invitation.
Bethel Provost Jay Barnes, in a statement, said the school views the event as a learning opportunity for its students. "Bethel University is a place where all people are treated with love and respect, and where our students are encouraged to form sound positions on cultural issues relevant to their Christian faith," he said. "In this spirit of academic freedom and learning, we are working to host the Equality Riders in a way that helps our students do critical thinking."
However, Bethel and several of the other targeted schools insist they do not ban students based on their homosexual orientation but ban all sexual activity for students outside of marriage.
"Bethel does not screen applicants for their perceived sexual orientation but makes clear that chaste behavior is expected for all students, staff and faculty who are not in a heterosexual marriage," the school's statement on the Equality Ride notes.
But, Equality Ride officials say, all of the schools have homophobic atmospheres on campus, and some until very recently have had strongly anti-gay policies. For instance, until this academic year, OBU's policy barred not only students who were "professedly practicing homosexual[s]" but also the "promotion of homosexuality within its jurisdiction."
Other Baptist-related schools on the route are California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., and the American Baptist-related Eastern University in St. Davids, Penn. The ride is scheduled to end with an April 26 trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
It must be comforting to be able to blame the crack-up of the mainline denominations on one nefarious organization, the Institute for Religion and Democracy. That's a lot less work than realizing how out of touch mainline leaders are from the people in the pews and from the Scriptures themselves. The theo-left are clearly the black helicopter crowd these days. This appeared on the "progressive" website Political Cortez.
By Frederick Clarkson 03/14/2006 04:03:05 AM EST
But the see-no-evil press coverage may be about to change. While this has been building for some time, the increasingly forceful and public stands of Rev. John H. Thomas, president of the 1.7 million member United Church of Christ may be the story that can no longer go untold.
Thomas is standing-up for his church. He is speaking-up. He is speaking-out. He is making it clear that he won't back-off; and he won't back-down.
Speaking recently at Gettysburg College, Thomas blasted the 20-year war of attrition aimed at the mainline churches by a key grantee of neo-conservative foundations. The Washington, DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy is the hub of a national network of conservative factions operating inside mainline churches -- and seeking to bend them to their will or break them apart.
Rev. Thomas is not the only mainstream minister in a fight-back mode. There is a fight-back movement spreading rapidly through the mainline churches -- most visibly in the blogosphere.
Here is an excerpt from Thomas' speech:
The IRD - the Institute on Religion and Democracy - is a sophisticated "inside the beltway" organization well funded by conservative foundations and closely aligned with a neo-conservative political agenda. IRD includes on its board intellectual and media figures like Michael Novak, Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Michael Medved. IRD's stated purpose is "Reforming the Church to Renew Democracy." It describes itself as "an ecumenical alliance of U.S. Christians working to reform their churches' social witness in accord with biblical and historic Christian teachings, thereby contributing to the renewal of democratic society at home and abroad," (emphasis added). The political agenda becomes even clearer when the Mission Statement goes on to say that the IRD believes "that Western representative democracy is, on balance, a good worthy of advancing." The echoes of the Bush administration's foreign policy are not hard to hear.
If the IRD were merely a think tank on the nexus of religion and politics from a neo-conservative perspective, there would be little to complain about even from those who disagree sharply. But the agenda is far less benign. IRD's president describes some of their activities:
RD monitors denominational agencies and leaders who often claim to speak for millions but really represent only an extreme view. We report our findings to churchgoers who want to reclaim their denominations from politicized ideologies.
IRD helps church members battle for renewal within their denominations, arming them with facts.
The target is the Mainline churches whose leaders, they allege, "pursue radical political agendas, throwing themselves into multiple, often leftist crusades - radical forms of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, revolutionary socialism, sexual liberation, and so forth." And, as a recent book about their activities puts it, they "play hardball on holy ground."
The IRD supports and encourages campaigns of disruption and attack in Mainline churches through its Alliance of Church Renewal. IRD has committees specifically focused on the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA), committees which provide support for so-called renewal groups within each of these denominations - the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Good News, and Anglicans United. More recently the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Churches, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have increasingly come into their sights as well.
The IRD pursues its political agenda in the churches through three strategies: campaigns of disinformation that seek to discredit church leadership, advocacy efforts at church assemblies seeking to influence church policy, and grass roots organizing which, in some cases, encourages schismatic movements encouraging members and congregations either to redirect mission funding or even to leave their denominations. Indeed, the Mainline churches are facing hardball tactics.
In a forthcoming article in The Public Eye magazine about the attacks on the mainline churches, I summarize the origins and purpose of IRD:
When the strategic funders of the Right, such as Richard Mellon Scaife, got together to create the institutional infrastructure of the Right in the 1970s and 80s - they underwrote the founding of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a Washington, DC-based agency that would help to network, organize and inform internal opposition groups, while sustaining outside pressure and public relations campaigns.
IRD was started in 1980 as a project of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority (CDM), an organization of conservative Democrats (many of whom later defected to the GOP), who had sought to counter the takeover of the party by liberals associated with 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern. IRD was originally run by CDM chief, Penn Kemble - a political activist who did not attend church.3 According to a profile by the International Relations Center, IRD received about $3.9 million between 1985 and 2002 from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, Castle Rock Foundation, The Carthage Foundation, and JM Foundation."
IRD remains a well-funded and influential hub for a national network of conservative factions called the Association for Church Renewal. The member organizations, called "renewal" groups, variously seek to neutralize church tendencies of which they don't approve; drive out staff they don't like; and seek to takeover the churches, but failing that -- taking as many churches and assets out as possible. The network's spokespersons are treated as credible voices of conservative dissent by mainstream media.
IRD's program is currently focused on the NCC's three largest denominations, together comprising 14 million members: the United Methodist Church; The Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). They also find the time to zero-in on the NCC, and the World Council of Churches. For example, interim IRD president Alan Wisdom personally attended the recent WCC meeting in Brazil, and issued critical dispatches for the IRD web site, and sound bites for the press.
Meanwhile, a number of UCC clergy are also fed up with the internal and external attacks on their church and are organizing in the blogosphere. Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer is writing a weekly column at Talk to Action.
Rev. Dan Schultz, who operates the national blog site Street Prophets, is also taking aim at the misrepresentations of his denomination.
Chuck Currie, a recent seminary graduate and veteran blogger has written much about the IRD and related matters.
Another prominent minister who is fighting back is Rev. Dr. Andrew Weaver, who with a number of Methodist colleagues has written a book called Hardball on Holy Ground, and has posted several pieces at Talk to Action as well as numerous articles on the general subject over the past few years.
The book follows the publication in recent years of http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0615123996/qid=1142324334/sr=1-3/ref=sr_1_3/104-7776002-5038316?s=books&v=glance&n=283155, by Leon Howell, and A Moment to Decide: The Crisis in Mainstream Presbyterianism, by Lewis Daly. These books have played catalytic roles within the mainline churches, informing the gathering movement that has has emerged from the realization that the churches have been subject to a unprecedented campaign of divide and conquer for two decades. The realization has come slowly and with great difficulty. But these most mainstream of American institutions -- the mainline Protestant churches -- may be responding at last.
Just as interesting is the unsigned crybaby comment left by a UCC pastor on the same site:
Is a small, rural church that came from German Lutheran roots before moving over to the UCC (it was either that, or go into the Missouri Synod, and these folks just didn't think they were self-righteous enough for the MS). The result is a church that has been quite stiff and formal, only gradually moving to embrace the more liberal positions of the UCC.
The outreach to gays has definitely caused turmoil in my church. Part of it is the own natural conservatism (and prejudices) of a lot of the older members.
But just as important is a "whisper campaign" being waged by the larger Baptist church down the road. Did you know that "despite the name, the UCC isn't really a Christian church," or that "they let gays teach their vacation bible school kids" or "all they do in that church is attack the USA?"
Many members have their dander up, but there's been enough resentment over the controversy that some members have expressly designated their donations to stay within our local church and not support broader UCC directives. There was even a special business meeting at which a handful of members suggested leaving the UCC. They were voted down, thank goodness, but not before a majority of those at the meeting agreed to send a letter to the UCC leadership stating opposition to the statement on gay rights.
It's very hard for this small church, where we may have 80 people between the two Sunday morning services, to hold firm when the 5000 member Southern Baptist church down the road holds their friends, their employers, the school board members, etc.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Underground chambers and tunnels used during a Jewish revolt against the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago have been uncovered in northern Israel, archaeologists said Monday.
The Jews laid in supplies and were preparing to hide from the Romans during their revolt in A.D. 66-70, the experts said. The pits, which are linked by short tunnels, would have served as a concealed subterranean home.
Yardenna Alexandre of the Israel Antiquities Authority said the find shows the ancient Jews planned and prepared for the uprising, contrary to the common perception that the revolt began spontaneously.
"It definitely was not spontaneous," Alexandre said. "The Jews of that time certainly did prepare for it, with underground hideaways here and in other sites we have found."
The underground chambers at the Israeli Arab village of Kfar Kana [New Testament Cana], north of Nazareth, were built from housing materials common at the time and hidden directly beneath the floors of aboveground homes - giving families direct access to the hideouts. Other refuges found from the time of the revolt are hewn out of rock.
"This construction was very well camouflaged inside one of the houses," Alexandre said. "There are three pits under this house and one tunnel leading to another pit. There are 11 storage jars in that pit."
Built like igloos, the chambers are wide at the base and small at the top. The tunnels between them are short and the ceilings are too low for standing upright.
Zeev Weiss, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem not connected to the discovery, said the find "can give us more information about life in the Galilee in the first century and the preparations Jews were making on the eve of the revolt." Weiss is director of excavations at Sepphoris, which was the largest city in the Galilee at the time of the revolt.
The Jewish revolt against Roman rule ended in A.D. 70, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.
The ancient Jews at the Kfar site built their houses over the ruins of a fortified Iron Age city, reusing some of the stones from the original settlement. Then they dug through 5 feet of debris from the ruins to build their hideaway complex. "It was quite a lot of work," Alexandre said.
The original settlement, which dates from the 10th and 9th centuries B.C., is also a new discovery.
Alexandre attributes current dating of the original city as an Iron Age settlement to pottery remains, which are plentiful. The excavators have also found large quantities of animal bones, a scarab depicting a man surrounded by two crocodiles and a ceramic seal bearing the image of a lion.
The excavation of the city's architecture has uncovered fortified walls which still stand 5 feet tall in some places. "It's magnificent," said Alexandre. "You can walk among them."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 13, 20061:12 PM
CONTACT: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communicationsmedia@thetaskforce.org
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Institute for Welcoming Resources Join Forces
Program is umbrella for more than 1,300 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender welcoming congregations, seminaries and campus ministries Unprecedented joining of secular and faith-based organizing efforts
WASHINGTON - March 13 - The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force announced today that the Institute for Welcoming Resources (IWR), an umbrella organization for leading Protestant lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) welcoming church programs, has merged with and will become a program of the Task Force. The move, an unprecedented joining of LGBT secular and faith-based organizing, is designed to provide new resources, training and strategies that will increase the number of people of faith supporting equality for LGBT people.
"We are extremely proud the Institute for Welcoming Resources, an essential leader in the effort to win support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in key denominations, is joining forces with us," said Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman. "The more than 1 million individuals in the 1,300 congregations supported by IWR are some of our movement's most valuable allies in the fight to reclaim 'moral values' from those who try to justify anti-gay bigotry as 'deeply held religious beliefs.'"
IWR works with the welcoming church movement in seven mainline Protestant denominations: the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Community of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the American Baptist Churches. Through this movement, congregations decide — through a formal vote — to offer an unconditional welcome to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and their families. To date, more than 1,300 congregations — with more than 1 million congregants — have adopted statements that explicitly welcome LGBT people to full inclusion in the life and ministry of their congregations.
"Those of us in the welcoming church movement see it as our job to proudly claim the witness and language of our faith traditions," said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, executive officer of IWR. "Unfortunately for those of us who are Christian, some of that language has been hijacked by the radical right and used to attack and abuse LGBT folk. We are determined to change that." Voelkel, a minister in the United Church of Christ, will continue to lead the IWR program as a member of the Task Force staff.
With new resources and expertise resulting from this move, IWR expects to place faith-based field organizers across denominations in strategic locations around the country; produce new resources for welcoming congregations, seminaries and other settings, train clergy and lay leaders to work for LGBT equality; and exchange lessons learned between faith-based organizing in the mainline Protestant churches and progressive people of faith in other religious traditions. As part of the Task Force, the IWR program will continue to organize the "Witness Our Welcome (WOW)" conference as the national convening of welcoming people of faith. It will also continue the outreach work of the Shower of Stoles project, a visual and liturgical representation of the leadership gifts of LGBT people of faith and the loss that occurs when they are banned from leadership.
"We are confident our becoming part of the Task Force will help us grow this critical movement and take us to a new level of participation and effectiveness," said Voelkel.
Faith-Based LGBT Activism — A Parallel Stream
Like the Task Force, which was founded in 1973, many of the organizations with which IWR works have been in existence since the early 1970s, with a substantial history of LGBT organizing. This "parallel stream" of faith-based LGBT activism has grown alongside the secular political movement. For instance, Lutherans Concerned/North America, an organization of LGBT and allied Lutherans, has been working within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada since 1974. Over the years, these faith groups have given spiritual strength to LGBT people, bound up wounds caused by religious abuse, and advocated for full inclusion of LGBT people within their denominations and in society as a whole. In the process, they have won hundreds of thousands of dedicated heterosexual allies in their churches and achieved significant institutional change.
While extraordinary progress has been made within Protestant denominations, including the United Church of Christ's recent General Synod resolution endorsing marriage equality for same sex couples, it has been done on a shoestring. A recent report released by the Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable, David v. Goliath: A Report on Faith Groups Working for LGBT Equality (and What They're Up Against) found that pro-LGBT faith organizations were out-spent by their anti-gay opponents by an average of 8 to 1.
"Much of the most important and heroic work to win hearts and minds on LGBT issues has been within religious denominations," Foreman said. "It's long past time for the secular and faith-based wings of our movement to share resources and expertise and advance as a united movement."
IWR as part of the continuing interfaith outreach of the Task Force
Working with faith leaders is not new for the Task Force. Since 1998, the Task Force has convened the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, an interfaith collaboration of more than 40 faith organizations from across the spectrum of American religious traditions. National Religious Leadership Roundtable members act as spokespeople, educators and citizen advocates in order to change the public dialogue on religion and LGBT issues. In addition to the denominations represented in the IWR, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable includes Episcopal, Metropolitan Community Church, Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Missionary Baptist, Unitarian, Quaker, Mormon, Seventh-Day Adventist, Eastern Orthodox and spiritualist representation.
A Muslim member of the Roundtable, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, spoke about the value of the Task Force working more closely with the Institute for Welcoming Resources. "A rising tide lifts all boats," Abdullah said. "As churches become more welcoming, there becomes less of an idea that all 'people of faith' oppose LGBT equality. I'm glad to work with my brothers and sisters in the welcoming congregations and learn from them, and I think they, too, will learn something from me."
To find out more about the IWR, including a comprehensive and geographical list of all the welcoming congregations around the country, visit http://www.welcomingresources.org/.IWR partner organizations include:
More Light Presbyterians (Presbyterian Church USA)
Open and Affirming Program(United Church of Christ)
Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist Church)
Reconciling in Christ (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)
Gay and Lesbian Acceptance (Community of Christ)
Open & Affirming Ministry (Christian Church/Disciples of Christ)
Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (American Baptist Churches)
Don't you just love this company? It makes my heart break to see the name American Baptist in this alliance...
Sunday, March 12, 2006
This is the text of an insert in the bulletin of the First Baptist Church of Temple City, CA, March 12, 2006. I share it here so readers around the country get a sense of how things have been communicated with PSW churches and the process which churches here are following.
Special Meetings of the Church Body
First Baptist Church of Temple City
Two inter-related issues will be voted upon by the church membership at a special congregational meeting, Sunday March 26 at 9:30 AM.
The first is a series of small constitutional amendments to the church constitution to remove American Baptist-specific language from our constitution. With the possibility that our region (the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest) may separate from the national body (the American Baptist Churches USA), it was felt that this measure was needed as a protective act in the unlikely event that the national body were to decide to attempt some form of legal action to seize church property. This action is not the same as a decision to leave the ABCUSA; it is merely a protective measure should we choose that course. This also includes a new Scripture reference in our statement of faith (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) to clarify that we do not regard homosexuality an acceptable Christian lifestyle option.
The second is a vote to express the church’s discernment in the matter of the recommendation of the Board of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest that the ABCPSW withdraw from the covenant of relationships with the American Baptist Churches, USA. We have been allotted 12 delegates to a special meeting for that purpose to be held at the First Baptist Church of Pomona on April 29, 2006. How our delegates vote will be determined by the proportion of the vote cast at by the church members voting at the meeting Sunday, March 26 at 9:30 AM.
Preceding the March 26 vote will be an informational meeting on the evening of Sunday, March 19 at 6 PM. That will be the place to discuss the issues and ask the questions. We do not want to disrupt the spirit of worship on March 26; therefore, the only questions being answered at that time will be strictly procedural. Any and all questions will be addressed at the informational meeting on the prior Sunday evening, March 19.
Please prayerfully seek God on these matters, and above all, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”
Dr. Glenn Layne, Senior Pastor
Mr. Alex Vago, Church Moderator