Saturday, December 31, 2005

"The Book of Daniel" Prompts Lion's Den of Opposition. Can NBC Read Writing on the Wall?

NBC has stirred up a lion's den of opposition to its new series, "The Book of Daniel." Set to air Jan 6 with a two hour premier, NBC ads promote the program with the teaser: "Sex. Drugs. Stolen money and martinis. Family can really test your faith." Imagine a series about a drug-addicted Episcopal priest; his alcoholic wife; his son, a 23-year-old homosexual Republican; his daughter, a 16-year-old drug dealing daughter; a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sex with the bishop's daughter; his lesbian secretary who is sleeping with his sister-in-law; and a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus who talks to the priest. And to think that NBC wonders why it is considered controversial. "The Christian Post" offers this report on the conflict.

Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005 Posted: 1:45:14PM EST

A television show that has yet to air and features an Episcopal priest as the main character is being opposed by one group, which says it objects to Hollywood’s focus on negative aspects of Christians and has called on supporters to contact the show’s sponsors to pull their advertising.

The program, “The Book of Daniel,” portrays the lives of one Episcopal priest and his family. The network airing the program, NBC, describes the relationship between the priest and his family as “loving, but challenging.” The American Family Association (AFA), which opposes the show, says the family is “deeply dysfunctional,” according to the L.A. Times.

The AFA objects to the portrayal of Christians on the program and is on a quest to identify its sponsors, and encourage conservative supporters to write letters to keep them from advertising.

“While we certainly recognize that Christians do have problems, and they have problems in their families, it seems that Hollywood consistently wants to focus on those types of Christians and those types of ministers – when the reality is that many, many more are hard-working," said AFA Spokesman Ed Vitagliano, according to Agape Press.

He said that the organization will be monitoring the program since it “appears to be yet one more show that's going to dog the Christian faith.

"The actor portraying the priest, Aidan Quinn, addressed potential objections, saying that they were misplaced.

If "Daniel" offends some Catholics, "I don't really care that much," he said, according to the Associated Press. "That's certainly not the intent. That's certainly not the truth. There are filters it (the show) goes through, including Jack's (the show’s creator) and mine."

Quinn said the show’s main character has good intentions but has a long way to go.

"It's a good thing Daniel started off so neurotic," he said. "He wants to be an evolved, spiritual man who takes care of his family. He's got miles to go before he sleeps."

The AFA claims it had sent nearly 400,000 thousand letters and e-mail message to NBC. However an NBC spokesman could only confirm that several hundred messages had been received, according to the L.A. Times.

“We’re confident that once audiences view this quality drama themselves, they’ll appreciate this thought-provoking examination of one American family,” said NBC in a press statement.

The network and the AFA have placed their emphasis on different aspects of the show.

The AFA’s description of the show’s characters included mentions of “a drug-addicted Episcopal priest; his alcoholic wife; his son, a 23-year-old homosexual Republican; his daughter, a 16-year-old drug dealing daughter; a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sex with the bishop's daughter; his lesbian secretary who is sleeping with his sister-in-law; and a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus who talks to the priest.”

In a press statement addressing concerns about the show, NBC describes the family as the “Reverend Daniel Webster, an unconventional Episcopalian minister;” Peter, “his 23-year-old son, who struggles with the loss of his twin brother;” Grace, "his 16-year-old daughter who doesn’t try to push her father’s buttons but succeeds at it nonetheless;” Adam, "his 16-year-old adopted Chinese son, a handsome and cocky high school jock with a wicked sense of humor; a “loving wife” with a “fondness for mid-day martinis;” and an actor portraying Jesus, “whose frequent chats with Daniel serve to remind him of his strengths and weaknesses.”

The Mississippi-based AFA has previously called boycotts on Ford for advertising in gay publications, and similar measures on Target retail stores for not using “Christmas” in advertising and indoor displays.

Jason Davis

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Help from a Dead Puritan on New Years' Resolutions

Many of us find the making of resolutions irresistible at this time of year. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) has generally been credited with being the greatest theologian or philosopher ever born on American soil. When you consider that he penned the following resolutions at one sitting in 1722 in New Haven, his prodigious talents are even more evident. You do the math. I have socks older than he was when writing his resolutions. Ponder these first 21 points as you approach another New Years.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

2. Resolved, to be continually endeavoring to find out some new invention and contrivance to promote the aforementioned things.

3. Resolved, if ever I shall fall and grow dull, so as to neglect to keep any part of these Resolutions, to repent of all I can remember, when I come to myself again.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

11. Resolved, when I think of any theorem in divinity to be solved, immediately to do what I can towards solving it, if circumstances don't hinder.

12. Resolved, if I take delight in it as a gratification of pride, or vanity, or on any
such account, immediately to throw it by.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

Have Yourself a Slappy Slappy Christmas? Santa Claus as Theological Enforcer

Have Yourself a Slappy Slappy Christmas?

This will be my last Christmas-themed post of the season. Honest!

Many of our fellow citizens enjoyed a wonderful Christmas celebration, full of lights, decorated trees, tasty confections, nostalgic carols, gift giving, and Christmas Eve and (this year)Christmas Day church services (except in a few mega churches closed for the “holiday”). For a large percentage of Americans, anyway, that also included Santa Claus. Whether as an addition to manager scenes and Christian carols or a secular substitute for them, Santa is a more or less permanent part of Americana.

We all know that Santa had his origins in St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. Renowned for his unusual love for children, he has become the model for Christmas generosity and a spirit of giving. One of the legends surrounding him tells of his saving a poor family's daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry, a present that landed in some shoes or, in some accounts, stockings that were hung up to dry. Thus arose the custom of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill. Add to that a few 19th century Thomas Nast drawings and the folklore associated with Christmas celebrations for the past 150 years or so and you have Santa Claus.

Thanks to Gene Edward Veith of World Magazine we now know the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say (

[St. Nicholas] was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.

During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture's increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls' stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap.

So, Veith muses on a variety of slaps that might become part of our Santa tradition. He does not suggest a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a “gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas.”

This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP!

Perhaps Santa Claus in his original role as a theological enforcer may not go over very well in our contemporary culture. People may then try to take both Christ and Santa Claus out of Christmas. And with that economic heresy, the retailers would start to do the slapping.

So, as we prepare for another round of Christmas preparations, "Xmas 2006," perhaps we should lift a page from the original St. Nicholas and get ready to have ourselves a slappy little Christmas?

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Big Tent With No Sides and No Pole Is Only an Oversized Drop Cloth

In Susan Gillies’ Blog, ABC Views from the Middle, the ABC Executive Minister challenges the loss of mission focus which she sees as relating to the drawing of lines and boundaries.

Perhaps it was inevitable that we would eventually take our eyes off the mission and look around at the people with whom we are joined and say “Oh, no! I didn’t realize I was working with snobs and weirdos and space cadets and country bumpkins! Where are the other normal people, like me?”

Then, add to this, the fact that we do have differences in our beliefs. Where do we draw the line at working with people who believe differently than we do? The drawing of lines is one of the things Christians have done prolifically. I do understand that there are always lines somewhere. The question is, do the lines we draw help our mission or hurt it. The damage caused by much of our line drawing has been profound. It may be that the disinterest in organized religion on the part of many in our society is because of our habitual line drawing. It has made observers distrustful of us, critical of us, cynical about us, utterly disappointed in us, dismissive of us – but more importantly it has interfered with their ability to hear the good news.

Why do we draw so many lines? Because we are insecure.

And that’s pitiful in Christians.

Gillies’ observations speak eloquently out of the angst and existential pain of a denominational official. They miss, however, the nuances associated with the question as it is being debated among theologians.

In an influential and controversial article in Christianity Today in 1998 (, Roger Olson helpfully discusses what he dubs the “two party system” in evangelicalism. His observations apply not only to intra-evangelical disputes but also to the ways in which we approach boundary lines within the larger Christian community. Olson distinguishes between a traditionalist mindset and a reformist one.

By traditionalist, he does not mean to imply a negative connotation. Jarislov Pelikan has defined traditionalism as "the dead faith of the living" and contrasted it with tradition as the "living faith of the dead." When Olson writes, he speaks of traditionalists as those who value traditional interpretations and formulations as normative. Similarly, for him “reformist” describes “a mindset that values the continuing process of constructive theology seeking new light breaking forth from God's Word.”

Speaking more specifically, this categorization differentiates the church as a “bounded set” from that as a “centered set.” Traditionalists see the only way “to avoid the slide into debilitating relativism and pluralism—a disease that has virtually destroyed "mainline" Christian denominations—is to recognize firm boundaries.” This “bounded set” thinking exalts the normative force of landmarks of belief, virtually treating them according to the analogy of legal court precedents. The “centered set” proponents, on the other hand, “wish to remain open to prophetic voices from the ‘fringes’ that may not have been heard” before. For them, boundaries should be flexible, fuzzy, and most of all, adjustable.

Drawing lines, which Gillies associates with psychological (and theological?) insecurity, may have more to do with these two contrasting mindsets as to how to live out one’s discipleship in the most faithful manner. The traditionalist wants to protect the truth of the Gospel from the encroachments of destructive unbelief. The reformist labors under an inclusive agenda, endeavoring never to miss previously undiscovered or underemphasized truth.

The centered set approach depends upon a forceful notion of what is in the center for it to remain recognizably Christian. Permitting and even encouraging ambiguity about the boundaries only works when clear agreement exists regarding the center. Otherwise, fuzzy boundaries leads to all kinds of heterodoxy. A "big tent" without a center pole is merely a drop cloth.

Those of us in the traditionalist camp genuinely fear that our reformist sisters and brothers in the ABC deny the validity of clear boundaries AND the central core necessary to make centered set thinking anything more than an excuse of an amorphous “believe any fool thing you want to” type of faith. Without a center and in the absence of clear boundaries, ABC life will cease to be distinguishably Christian.

Susan Gillies misses the point by locating the problem in our insecurity. Centered set thinking without a controlling center is not a mark of security, but unbelief.

[Reflecting only the opinions of the blogger and nobody official in the PSW]

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A Christmas Day Blessing by An Ancient Christian Poet

A Christmas Day poem by Prudentius (c. 348-c. 410), Latin poet and hymn-writer who devoted his later life to Christian writing. He wrote didactic poems on the theology of the incarnation, against the heretic Marcion and against the resurgence of paganism.

"Mother Yet Virgin"
A heavenly fire engenders him, not flesh
Nor blood of father, nor impure desire.

By power of God a spotless maid conceives,
As in her virgin womb the Spirit breathes.
The mystery of this birth confirms our faith
That Christ is God: a maiden by the Spirit
Is wed, unstained by love; her purity
Remains intact; with child within, untouched
Without, bright in her chaste fertility,
Mother yet virgin, mother that knew not man.
Why, doubter, do you shake your silly head?
An angel makes this known with holy lips.
Will you not hearken to angelic words?
The Virgin blest, the shining messenger
Believed, and by her faith she Christ conceived.
Christ comes to men of faith and spurns the heart
Irresolute in trust and reverence.
The Virgin’s instant faith attracted
Christ into her womb and hid him there till birth.

The Divinity of Christ 566–84.
(Vol. 3: Luke. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture NT 3. (Page 15). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Kicking Sand at Mary and the Babe in the Manger During Christmas Week

One might be used to the image of an ACLU Grinch throwing a fit over "Merry Christmas" or Newsweek choosing this time of year to educate the American public about why the Bible doesn't really mean what your church taught you it did. What continues to amaze, however, are the words directed from the cultured despisers of the Word of God who hail from within (more or less) the "family."

This Christmas week, Chole Breyer, Episcopal priest at St. Mary's Manhattanville Church in West Harlem, New York, took aim at the Virgin Birth. She is the daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and author of The Close, a smuggly liberal reflection on her first year at General Theological Seminary in New York City.

One reviewer denominates her as "the Platonic ideal of the contemporary liberal bourgeoisie." Witty, well-spoken, and possessing some of the most impressive political connections as a SCOTUS offspring, she nevertheless richly deserves the designation given her by one reviewer as a "nitwit" and a "snob" (

But, it is not her cozy comfort with self-conscious liberal foolishness that diminishes her work. Ms. Breyer has little regard for the Word of God or the faith of the Apostles. Paul's writings (a full 48% of the books in the New Testament!) are consigned "into the category of things despite which I call myself a Christian.”

What does this unconventional Episcopal Priest want to communicate to the American public via the Internet during Christmas Week?

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of God's only son. Some believers, however, wonder if Jesus Christ is God's son only. The ancient "illegitimacy tradition" and its modern proponents propose that Jesus may have had a human father. That idea upsets one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith—the virgin conception. But it's entirely in keeping with more essential tenets: Jesus' role as the Messiah, and God's love for the poor and downtrodden. What's more, the illegitimacy tradition responds to many strange utterances about Jesus' birth in the Scriptures themselves . . .

Can a loyal Christian believe that Christ was not born of a biological virgin? Perhaps it's worth posing a different question: Why is church authority so intent upon Mary's virginity as a historical fact? Would Jesus be any less God's son if he had an earthly father? The central message of the Gospel is that God raised up and redeemed his servant from death by crucifixion—the Roman style of execution reserved for the lowest of the low. Why couldn't God have sent the same message of divine solidarity with the world's outcasts by making a Messiah out of a man whose conception was also taboo?

Some church leaders feel the pull of the illegitimacy tradition but fear its impact. "Undoubtedly, some sophisticated Christians could live with the alternative … [but] for many less sophisticated believers, illegitimacy would be an offense that would challenge the plausibility of the Christian Mystery," Brown writes. However well-intended, that fear may be misdirected. When she published her book, Schaberg got seven grateful or supportive letters for every angry one she received. More than a century ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, "If a heavenly father, why not a heavenly mother? And if an earthly mother, why not an earthly father?" She continued, "I think the doctrine of the Virgin Birth as something sweeter, higher, nobler than ordinary motherhood, is a slur on all the natural motherhood of the world." An unveiled illegitimacy tradition offers this Christmas gift: the restoration of natural motherhood to its rightful place in the miraculous.

How much better the faithful restraint of the early church father who wrote: "The One whom the world was neither able to contain or worthy to receive, Mary alone was able to hold as it were in the little chamber of her womb."

Chrysostom's words apply not only to Breyer but to all who would diminish the truth of the incarnation as revealed by God. "Shame on those who attempt to pry into the miracle of generation from on high! For this birth can by no means be explained, yet it has witnesses beyond number and has been proclaimed from ancient times as a real birth handled with human hands. What kind of extreme madness afflicts those who busy themselves by curiously prying into the unutterable generation?" (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 4.3)

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bethlehem Bioethics? The Incarnation at Bethlehem Minus Nine Months

Christianity Today includes a fine piece in its Week of December 19 posting. Bioethicist Nigel M. de S. Cameron, develops his devotional around the biological realities of the incarnation (

While Christmas reveals the Incarnation to the rest of us, it had already happened back then. Mary was the first to know; and her cousin Elizabeth's unborn baby John (the Baptist) was the first to bear witness. His leaping in the womb was the first act of Christian testimony, a fetal response to a gospel first preached by an embryonic Jesus (perhaps two or three weeks old). As we read this narrative of theology from the womb, our minds turn to a near contemporary who would in due time electrify the ancient pagan world and lay the foundations of its collapse: Saul of Tarsus, also set apart from his mother's womb (Galatians 1:15). Three unborn children in whose hands lay the destiny of humankind. And one of them was not merely the tiniest of humans, he was the cosmic creator, the Word by whom the Godhead has spoken into existence the vastness of time and space. And the One who will one day be our Judge.

Cameron looks back at the meaning of the conception of Jesus in Mary by the Holy Spirit, and to the concrete reality of what happened during Mary's pregnancy:

God took human form; and he took it not simply as a baby, but as the tiniest of all human beings, a mere biological speck, so small and so undeveloped that it could be mistaken for a laboratory artifact, a research specimen, an object for human experimentation. But this speck was God; this complete genetic human organism, in its primitive and undeveloped form, was so much "one of us" as to bear the existence of the Creator. He dignified humanity by taking the form of this creature he had made in his image; and he did it at the most inauspicious and feeble point in the human life story. At the heart of the Christmas celebration lies the fact of all facts, that God became a zygote.

Controversial in our day, yet inescapable as an implication of the incarnation, is the impact the conception of Christ has for current embryonic research:

Therefore: It is important to realize that there are several powerful arguments against using human embryos for research, some of which do not depend on the idea that the embryo is "one of us." And we can argue that the embryo is "one of us"--that human dignity is as indivisible as biological human nature--without ever arguing from theology and Christian belief. But if we are Christians, we have theological underpinnings for such arguments. We believe that all human beings are made in the image of God. We believe that Jesus Christ was God taking human form for himself. And we believe that we started right at the beginning--that incarnation took place in embryo.

The birth of the Bethlehem baby gives cause for celebration around the world. However, the miracle of incarnation took place in time nine months before that holy Advent we recognize by Christmas. Immanuel came to this world, not as a nearly helpless baby but as a totally vulnerable embryo.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

TIME Magazine Asks Who was Joseph: Chaste Caretaker, Alienated Cuckold, Adoring Protector, or Modern Day Evangel?

Time magazine recently featured an article on a fascinating, but often underdeveloped, aspect of the nativity narrative: the role of Joseph. In this instance, they also highlighted two evangelical writers attempting to bring Joseph to the attention of the American public.

“Even without that much imagination, a Christian curious about Joseph can take some sturdy, basic inspiration from the carpenter who is, at a minimum, humanity's stand-in, a lunch-pail hero not born to holiness but who, by his hard-won and steadfast belief, finds a role in salvation. This season two big-name writers have taken Joseph's story a step further,” David Van Biema writes in Time (,10987,1139838,00.html).

The article chronicles the various approaches to Joseph over the centuries. The author deftly details the varying roles Joseph has played in the history of interpretation, including the “Chaste Caretaker,” the “Alienated Cuckold,” and the “Adoring Protector.” Recently, however, evangelical authors such as Presbyterian pastor Howard Edington and Left Behind’s Jerry Jenkins have begun to emphasize Joseph as the “Modern Day Evangel.”

In Holding Heaven, Jenkins teams up with illustrator Ron DiCianni (Integrity Publishers; ISBN: 159145218X). Their book features only two scenes: one in Egypt as “Joseph talks his restless infant to sleep by describing the miracles of his life thus far and another 30 years later at the Nazareth carpenter's deathbed as the old man querulously but determinedly extracts from the adult Jesus the grim story of Christ's future and his good news for humanity.”

While Time admits that the book is not high art, it nevertheless “stirs a pang of recognition in any man who has rocked a sleepless infant or grasped a bedridden father's hand--as well as a tingly intuition of the special nature of those particular players.”

Jenkins’ goal seems to be to use imagination to open doors of understanding to moderns separated by a cultural chasm as wide as the two thousand years since the birth of Christ. “When the young Joseph muses that ‘when You settled into my arms it felt as if I were holding heaven,’ the Christian reader is meant to realize that he actually was,” concludes Time.

Quoting from a recent book by Howard Edington, "Joseph took God's son into his heart, thus discovering a purpose for his own life within the greater purposes of God." Then he addresses his readers: "My prayer is that you will do the same."

Amen, Jerry Jenkins and Howard Edington. Amen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Evangelical Blogger Takes on the Prophet of CRCDS: Dr. Bill Herzog

Today I included a piece on the ABE message board dealing with a funeral homily by Dr. William Herzog II of Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School. CRCDS bills itself as the place for an inquiring student to savor "a diverse ecumenical community where women and men from many different backgrounds and denominations can pursue an education that is pastoral, prophetic, and learned."

In the most recent issue of the "Bulletin from the Hill" (, professor Herzog is quoted from the funeral service for a CRCDS student. Glenn Layne blogged the entire address ( and introduced it with the following comments:

"Bill Herzog, that paragon of orthodoxy, strikes again. In a truly moving euology for a deceased student (whose name I have removed) Dr. Bill equates Taoist writings with Scripture and imagines Lao Tzu and Mark (as in the Gospel of) welcoming the student to the heavenly shore. His biennial outburst wasn't an aberration; he truly is heterodox in so many varied ways."

The piece reveals all of the artistry and craftsmanship of the literature major from Harvard that Herzog was coupled with the seasoned theologizing of an ABSW (M.Div.) and Claremont (Ph.D.) educated scholar with a lifetime in the classroom. But . . . WOW!

Speaking of the use of Mark's Gospel and Tao Teh Ching, Herzog opined:
"[the student Herzog was eulogizing] gave a creative, original presentation to the class, and for a few glorious minutes East met West in a framework of mutual mystery and respect. It was one of the highest moments I have experienced in classroom. Truly, on that day, in Christ there was both East and West, and in the Tao there was neither East nor West, but we were bound together in serenity and wisdom."

While Mark says that there are "different ways to approach truth," he and Lao Tzu await the arrival of the student on the "other shore of the great divide" (i.e., "heaven," eternity, whatever). To Mark ’s great surprise, Lao Tzu walked up to the student and bowed before him as sign of respect. He spoke softly,

The Way of Heaven is like stretching a bow.
The top is pulled down,
The bottom pulled up.

The student bowed, gazed at the master and replied, the last shall be first and the first last.””

Mark smiled; Then Mark and Lao Tzu joined him. Then Mark and Lao Tzu threw their arms around [the student who Herzog was eulogizing] and welcomed him to the eternal domains. In spite of their considerable differences, honed and explored throughout the ages, they agreed on one thing. It was clear to them both that [the student] bore the mark of a true champion."

Wow! After seeing an example of how Dr. Herzog approaches the uniqueness of the Christian faith (it isn't), the dangers of syncretism (what, me worry?), and the proper interpretation of the New Testament (reader response hermeneutics at best), the American Baptist teacher extraordinaire at CRCDS places himself well outside normative orthodoxy.

No wonder Dr. Herzog took evangelicals to task in his Roger Williams Fellowship address at the Denver Biennial. We stand for everything he opposes. Viewed against this background, the indictment of Bill Nicoson as a Judaizer makes perfect sense. So does the excoriation of the West Virginia Baptists. A belief in the exclusivity of the Christian faith, the conviction that correct interpretation should discover what the original author intended, and the idea that being "born again" might be more desired than to be ridiculed put the evangelical wing of the ABC far from the theology of Dr. Herzog and his co-religionists.

Dennis E. McFadden

[too simple minded to comprehend Lao Tzu or to speak for the good people in the PSW Hdqtrs]

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christian Century Reports on Latest Shift in ABC: ABCW Renames Itself: "Growing Healthy Churches"

"The Christian Century" has reported on another move among American Baptists. This time the focus falls on the renaming of the current American Baptist Churches of the West as "Growing Healthy Churches." CC handles the material in a fair and evenhanded journalistic manner. What may interest the readers of "His Barking Dog," however, is the quote by Chicago's Interim Executive Minister, Rev. Larry Greenfield, who has been cited as being both "amused" and "deeply troubled" by the change in name.

One wonders whether Rev. Greenfield finds the implication that he and his more progressive colleagues are not committed to biblical standards amusing or that ABCW has "so radically reduced the Bible's message to something small and worldly" amusing. Greenfield owes his current position to the forced ouster of the previous executive minister after that man voted in favor of the pastoral letter cobbled together by the Regional Executive Minister's Council last fall. A stand of conscience precipitating the firing of a leader for not being "liberal" enough? That is something that "His Barking Dog" definitely finds deeply troubling and not at all amusing.

American Baptist region renamed 'Growing Healthy Churches'

In recent decades, a congregation seeking unchurched members has often called itself a "center" or "fellowship" instead of a "church." It may also drop the name of the locality for a bucolic name like "Mountain View," and may erase the denominational identity from its name.

Now, as of January 1, the American Baptist Churches of the West, based in the northern California city of San Ramon, wants to be known as Growing Healthy Churches, or GHC for short.

The decision stems partly from the ongoing struggle over homosexuality and local church autonomy in the denomination. Some ABC of the West congregations "find it difficult to be identified with a denomination that will not affirm biblical standards," the region's executive minister, Paul D. Borden, wrote to pastors November 30.

The denomination's General Board in mid-November voted 59-45 with five abstentions to add to a document "We Are American Baptists" a phrase affirming that sexual intimacy belongs in a heterosexual marriage and that homosexual practice is incompatible with biblical teaching. However, Borden and other conservative evangelicals are unhappy with denominational leaders who—on the grounds of traditional Baptist respect for local autonomy—have declined to adopt more punitive steps against clergy, congregations and associations deemed to be more permissive.

The adoption of the name Growing Healthy Churches "is a move to reflect more accurately who we are as well as losing any negative baggage that may be detrimental to the accomplishment of a mission," Borden wrote.

In an "amused and deeply troubled" response, Larry Greenfield, interim executive director of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, wrote that he was amused by the implication that "the rest of us" are not committed to biblical standards when the GHC has "so radically reduced the Bible's message to something small and worldly."

[merely the unamused musings of the blogger only; not to be confused with the offical policies of PSW or its leadership]

Friday, December 16, 2005

Conservatives Said to Lack "the Courage of [Their] Convictions" in ABC Crisis

My "open letter" to Dr. Medley in this blog generated considerable heat by friend and foe alike. Dr. Glenn Layne of the venerable "Durable Data" ( my post as "McFadden Blasts Medley Over ABC Meltdown." More critically, someone calling himself/herself "Fac ut vivas" wrote the following in response to the earlier blog:

Fac ut vivas said...
"I assume that those who are seeking power for themselves by seeking to destroy the ABC/USA over the non-Biblical and secular issue of "homosexuality" (non-Biblical because the word did not exist until the 19th century; secualr (sic) because it is of the world and not of the Christian faith) are willing---as you, surely in your great moral leadership are willing--to give up your pensions with the MMBB in order to do what you believe god wants you to do. If you do not, then the world will know that you do not have the courage of your convictions or have any faith in the god you proclaim is calling you to destroy one of the great expressions of the faith. If you are not willing to give up the "security" the ABCUSA has provided you, then you are not acting out of conviction but out of selfishness, pride, vainglory and hypocrisy."

This reply is interesting for so many reasons . . .

1. Most people I know in the midst of the ABC crisis are not seeking "power" or "influence" "for themselves." Who cares who runs the show? Progressives tend to see the world more in institutional and systemic terms than conservatives do. The reality that those on the left dominate the bureaucracies of most mainline denominations, out of proportion to their ideological numbers in the congregations, speaks to this fascinating (and often cited) phenomenon. Frankly, my job is big enough to take the lion's share of my attention without another layer of denominational work competing for time.

2. MMBB, the ABCUSA pension plan organization, operates its contractual benefits by legal mandates like any secular company. It is not a matter of feelings, conscience, or "courage of . . . convictions." BESIDES, Executive Director Sumner Grant has already made it clear to PSW pastors that if they leave the ABCUSA, they WILL lose their non-contractual benefits, including "thank you" checks, spousal grants, educational grants for the children of deceased members, emergency grants, etc. Everyone I know in that boat HAS the courage of their convictions, even if it costs them benefits that others receive.

If the disparity of benefits is too great, some enterprising soul will cobble together a competitive program utilizing other financial institutions. One person known to me has already begun working on a contingency plan for a post MMBB situation. His preliminary numbers suggest that for most purposes benefits would exceed the MMBB package at the same or lower cost. Whether that pencils out in reality or not remains to be seen. Most of us have an emotional loyalty to MMBB that runs beyond the specifics of the financial relationship. Moreover, the economic aspect has not driven either the left or the right in this controversy. Both have claimed the moral high ground of enduring principles: either biblical authority (the right) or soul competency and justice (the left).

3. It does not follow that everyone who refuses to jump through the hoops "Fac ut vivas" sets up is necessarily motivated by "selfishness, pride, vainglory and hypocrisy" and "not acting out of conviction." Assessing other people's internal reasons for any action is notoriously difficult.

"Fac ut vivas" makes numerous logical leaps, all while assuming the worst of the evangelicals in the ABCUSA. Frankly, while many of us disagree strongly with Dr. Medley, most of us have been hesitant to impute ill-will and motivational meanness to him. Instead, several of us have gone out of our way to show deference to both the man and the position. He is, after all, a brother in Christ, not our enemy. And, most of us who have dealt with him personally can vouch for his enormous affability, pastoral character, and concern for the unity of the ABCUSA.

4. Finally, I do not believe that it is accurate to speak of the evangelical right as attempting to "destroy one of the great expressions of the faith." Initially, almost all of us were agitating for reform and renewal within the ABCUSA. We did not want to "take over" or wrestle power, let alone harm the denomination. Even now, the evangelicals leading the charge to separate from the ABCUSA are not asking for anything other than to be allowed to pursue their vision of ministry in a separate organization from the ABCUSA. While Dr. Medley and the GEC express regret and grief over PSW's announced intentions, they show NO interest in changing their approach to the issues leading to the impending division.

Dennis E. McFadden

[Unofficial opinions only contained herein. These words are about as likely to be official as atheist Michael A. Newdow is to be found in worship at a mega church on Christmas Sunday]

Thursday, December 15, 2005

PSW Separation Vote Slated for April 29, 2006

The Pacific Southwest board has set the date for the advisory vote on separation from the ABCUSA. It will be held at the First Baptist Church of Pomona on Saturday, April 29, 2006.

December 14, 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings in the strong name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On December 8, 2005, the Board of Directors of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest unanimously approved the following resolution:

The American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest Board of Directors recommends that the Region withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA.

Therefore, the Board of Directors calls for a Special Meeting of delegates from the churches. (Specific date to be confirmed the week of December 12, 2005) The purpose of this meeting of delegates from the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest churches is for the Board to receive an expression of the will of the delegates to provide the Board with the guidance and input it needs to make a responsible and informed decision on withdrawing from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA.

The Meeting of Delegates from the Churches of the Region has been set for April 29, 2006 at First Baptist Church, Pomona. Registration will begin at 9:30 AM. In addition to a main site, we will offer satellite sites, connected by telephone to enable those in the most distant parts of the Region to participate in this important meeting.

For the past three months the Region’s Executive Committee has studied the implications and ramifications of withdrawal from the Covenant of Agreements. Study included:
· Attempts to reach a resolution with the ABCUSA;
· Negotiation regarding future cooperation with ABC Covenant Partners if the region withdrew from the Covenant of Relationships;
· Obstacles that could hinder us in pursuing the Vision of the Region;
· Strategies to overcome those obstacles;
· The future of the Region as an autonomous mission agency.

On December 7 the Executive Committee met with a delegation from the ABC General Executive Council (GEC) in a final attempt to avoid withdrawal. While the Executive Ministers in the delegation communicated a strong desire for the Region to remain in Covenant, they had been given no substantive proposals for resolution by the GEC or the Office of the General Secretary. The ABCPSW Executive Committee therefore reported to the Region Board of Directors, “Nothing we have heard or discovered leads us to change direction or stop the process of withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships.”

Delegates from every cooperating church in the ABCPSW will be entitled to vote at this important meeting. The number of delegates to which a church is entitled is based on its membership and mission giving, as determined by a formula in the Region Bylaws. The minimum number of delegates for a congregation is five (5). After the first of the year we will write to each church indicating the number of delegates to which it is entitled.

Deep differences of theological convictions and values between the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest and the American Baptist Churches in the USA have brought increasing strain on the relationship of the churches of the Region and the ABCUSA for many years. The Board of Directors is grieved that these differences have not been resolved.

The decision to recommend withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships was made without animosity or malice. We continue to affirm that American Baptists are our brothers and sisters in Christ whom we love and respect. The withdrawal of the ABCPSW from the Covenant of Relationships will place some distance between the Region and the ABCUSA that will clarify the distinctiveness of these ministries, enabling both to carry out their respective missions.

We continue to ask the churches of the ABCPSW to observe the last Friday of every month as a time for prayer and fasting until the decision is finalized. Specifically, pray that the Lord will guide congregations and protect their unity as they discuss the issues before us and decide how their delegates will vote. Seek the Lord’s guidance for the future of the ABCPSW including our mission and our relationships with other parts of the body of Christ. If we are to honor Christ we need His Spirit to humble, cleanse, and empower us to recognize and accomplish His will in these challenging days. Pray that the Lord will use us to change our worlds for Christ!

May God bless you as you serve the King of Kings,


Dr. Dale V. Salico
Executive Minister

Brian Scrivens

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Open Letter: "With All Due Respect, Mr. General Secretary, You Have Not Spoken the Truth"

“Because schism in the church is grievous to our Lord, we have done—and will continue to do—everything we can to maintain the unity of the Body of Christ, which is so clearly taught in scripture,” Medley emphasized. (ABCUSA press release, 12/14/05)

Dear Dr. Medley,

With all due respect, Mr. General Secretary, you have not spoken the truth. Not only have you NOT done "everything [you] can" to maintain unity in the ABC, you have only made the problem worse and more intractable by some of the actions you have undertaken to do.

1. Your message at the Denver Biennial offered you a golden opportunity to extend an olive branch to those yearning for a return to biblical authority as a governing distinctive in the corporate life of the ABC. Instead you began with what has sadly become your signature approach to this topic: On the one hand I hold a certain view personally, BUT on the other hand I want to credit, accredit, and contribute my prestige to defending the opposite viewpoint.

You certainly don't have the same problem speaking univocally on any number of other topics, including some which have more American Baptists in the dissenting group than this one. You don't go out of your way to show support for those who for reasons of conscientious interpretation take a complementarian rather than an egalitarian view of male-female roles. Nor to you jump to the defense of those American Baptists who tend to be more supportive of the Bush administration on issues of national and international policy. My point is not to advocate for either of those views, merely to note that our polity has not prevented you from speaking with prophetic clarity on the topics.

Your bully pulpit works quite well on any number of controversial and even divisive issues, just not this one dealing with human sexuality. Why doesn't our polity prevent your prophetic pronouncements on the other areas where sincere sisters and brothers disagree? Rather than doing "everything" you could to bring peace, you were widely interpreted as insulting the very people you claimed to want to reach out to in your message.

2. Your visits to the PSW did not do "everything [you could]" to promote unity or reconciliation in any way. Instead, while they served to continue humanizing the image of Roy Medley the man (let me stipulate that we all agree that you are a gentle, genial, and caring pastor), it reinforced the worst stereotypes of Dr. Medley the General Secretary. At the September meeting in Covina, hundreds of pastors and church leaders came to hear you. Several spoke to you--respectfully, yet firmly--without receiving anything in reply but a rehearsal of the party line about "our polity prevents us from doing anything."

The meetings in the San Diego area, Redlands, and Pasadena offered you another wonderful chance to appeal directly to the church leaders. Along with your colleagues from National Ministries, International Ministries, MMBB, and your own deputy for regional relationships, you might have adjusted your presentation to take into account the reasons for the signal failure of the Covina gathering. Instead of doing "everything" you could, you served up more of the same tired and worn lines which had been aired with such a disastrous outcome in Covina.

The GEC delegation claimed to have discharged their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. As the authors of the report concluded: "We feel satisfied that we have done everything humanly possible to challenge and persuade PSW to reexamine their present course."

What they did, according to numerous eye witness reports, was to try to identify with some of the concerns of PSW, suggest that others in the denomination felt similarly, and that therefore the region should continue to stay the course within the "family." What they did NOT do was to offer even a shred of hope that attitudes in the GEC had changed such that PSW concerns would be addressed and acted upon in the near term. Indeed, Dr. Salico's oft-stated comment seems the more realistic evaluation. He opines: "It is neither biblical nor ethical to play "let's pretend" when God calls us to lead."

3. Finally, Dr. Medley, you have failed to do "everything" you could to resolve this schism-threatening situation because you have not done the least you should have done: spoken forth a clear and biblical message as the standard. Our ordination vows called upon us to be faithful to attending to the Word of God in our private devotions and in our public declarations.

Without first speaking forth a "Thus saith the Lord," attempts to make excuses clothed in the garb of "soul competency" only serve to vitiate the content of the Gospel. What stands at the end of the day is not a clear moral standard about which we may have some differences in application. Instead, we end up with a defense for believing and doing just about any fool thing we want to, all in the name of a revisionist interpretation of soul liberty. This strips the treasured Baptist distinctive of any meaningful and univocal biblical content. Rather than describing how Baptists work out the implications of sola scriptura, soul competency becomes an "on the other hand" value pitted against biblical authority in some sort of relativistic calculus.

Sir, I was an early supporter of your administration, have prayed for you (and still do), enjoyed the privilege of speaking many of these ideas to you directly and privately, and still hope that you will do the "everything" you can to prevent disaster. But, after watching events unfold during the past eighteen months, it is clear that not only have you not done "everything" you can, you have still to do the least you can.

Fondly but sadly,

Dennis E. McFadden

[Only speaking for myself, not for any PSW entity; just about as likely to be official as Paul Crouch is to be a keynote speaker at a R.C. Sproul national conference]


VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS)—American Baptist leaders have responded with profound regret and concern over the recommendation issued on Dec. 8 by the Board of Directors of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest to withdraw that region from the denomination’s Covenant of Relationships.

A regional meeting of its churches to advise the leadership is tentatively scheduled in May 2006. After that meeting, the Board will make its final decision. If approved, the recommended action would effectively remove the region from a formal relationship with the American Baptist Churches in the USA.

“American Baptists are deeply disappointed at the decision of the leadership of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest to recommend a break-away from the denomination,” General Secretary Dr. A. Roy Medley said today.

The conflict American Baptists find themselves in is sometimes described as a liberal/conservative division over the issue of homosexuality. In reality, American Baptist statements on human sexuality and marriage have consistently been conservative, evangelical and traditional. We all hold biblical authority as primary for Christian discipleship and church life—but we have always respected dissent in interpretation.

When the proposal was first made to break Covenant, one of the region’s own Board members wrote, “ I voted against withdrawing from the ABCUSA because I do not agree with the idea of requiring uniformity in the matter of interpretation of scripture, in this case, in the area of human sexuality. If there is one principle that drew me to become an American Baptist, it was the belief that each person can read the Bible and form his or her own conclusions without any imposition from others. As Baptists, we agree on a number of central Bible doctrines but still affirm the freedom of each individual to interpret scripture for himself or herself, under the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

Even though Baptist churches have been organized in America from the 1600s until the present, it wasn’t until 1907 that the Northern Baptist Convention, now American Baptist Churches in the USA, was formed. In structuring a national denomination, these Baptists were careful to safeguard the primacy of the local church so that the national body could not usurp the rights and privileges of the local congregation to exercise authority over them. These basic principles were derived from the Bible and represented early Baptist desire to properly reflect the New Testament teaching concerning the nature of the church. The principle of the primacy and autonomy of the local church is reflected in the name—the denomination is not the American Baptist Church—it is the American Baptist Churches.

“Because schism in the church is grievous to our Lord, we have done—and will continue to do—everything we can to maintain the unity of the Body of Christ, which is so clearly taught in scripture,” Medley emphasized.

In order to clearly understand the concerns of the Pacific Southwest, and in the hope of maintaining the desired unity of Christ’s Body, many national and regional officers and staff have devoted extensive energy, time, resources and prayer in continuing dialogue with the region. In addition to previous visits by the President, the General Secretary, and the National Executive Council, Dr. Dale V. Salico, Executive Minister of the Pacific Southwest, has had multiple opportunities to speak to the concerns of the region, including meetings with the Regional Executive Ministers Council, the General Board Executive Committee, and the full General Board—the denomination’s governing body.

One result of these meetings was a decision by the General Executive Council to send a delegation to meet with the appropriate leadership groups of the region. Dr. Alfred Fletcher of the American Baptist Churches of Maine and Dr. Desmond Hoffmeister of the American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains, were appointed and made themselves available for whatever meetings would be most helpful to the region leadership. They spent six hours of discussion with the five-member Executive Committee. There was a meeting of the full Board that followed, to which the two Executive Ministers were not invited.

Fletcher and Hoffmeister, in their meeting with the Executive Committee, expressed the deep care and concern of all mission partners in the denomination toward what, for over 100 years, has been one of the strongest regions in the denomination. They reported: “We made a pastoral and passionate appeal on behalf of the GEC for PSW to remain at the ABCUSA table. We challenged some of their assumptions, were surprised by some of their assertions, and they were surprised by some of the information that we shared. They were encouraged by the fact that we represented all the covenanting partners. Notwithstanding the positive tone of the meeting, we left feeling that it will take a monumental effort to reverse the advanced and propelling momentum of their intended process.”

If the region withdraws, it will assume control of the disbursement of mission money historically given by the churches in support of American Baptist missions. In 2004, that amount was over $2.9 million. At the same time, as the region is distancing itself from the denomination and expressing the intent to formally break covenant, the Pacific Southwest is negotiating ways to continue doing ministry with American Baptists—specifically the pension/benefit and mission boards of the denomination.

In the final analysis, each of the 300 churches in the Pacific Southwest will make its own decision regarding its continuing relationship with ABCUSA. Each church—in the Baptist way of decision making—will have the opportunity to choose for itself.

“Regardless of the region’s decision, there will be a continuing American Baptist presence in southern California,” Medley said. “Every effort will be made to enable and support churches wishing to remain in covenant with us.”

In addition, Medley stated, “The Los Angeles Baptist City Mission Society, one of the most racially and ethnically diverse evangelical mission organizations in the nation, is a cooperating American Baptist region, and has given us assurances through its Executive Minister, Dr. Samuel Chetti, that it will stay at the table.”

In reflecting upon his visit to southern California, Fletcher said, “Hope keeps bringing us back.”

Medley added, “And in that hope we press on.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

". . . To Give His Life a Ransom for Many" - Aslan As Stumbling Stone for the Cultured Despisers

Aslan's on the move . . . he banishes the darkness and brings the light but some people would rather live in darkness. Few reviewers bring the kind of anti-Christian venom to the review of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," as Polly Toynbee of The Guardian. If you have a strong stomach, check out the link:,5673,1657942,00.html

"Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion"

"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?"

"Philip Pullman - he of the marvellously secular trilogy His Dark Materials - has called Narnia "one of the most ugly, poisonous things I have ever read". Why? Because here in Narnia is the perfect Republican, muscular Christianity for America - that warped, distorted neo-fascist strain that thinks might is proof of right."

"Children are supposed to fall in love with the hypnotic Aslan, though he is not a character: he is pure, raw, awesome power. He is an emblem for everything an atheist objects to in religion. His divine presence is a way to avoid humans taking responsibility for everything here and now on earth, where no one is watching, no one is guiding, no one is judging and there is no other place yet to come. Without an Aslan, there is no one here but ourselves to suffer for our sins, no one to redeem us but ourselves: we are obliged to settle our own disputes and do what we can. We need no holy guide books, only a very human moral compass. Everyone needs ghosts, spirits, marvels and poetic imaginings, but we can do well without an Aslan."

- Polly Toynbee, columnist for The Guardian (U.K.), in a review of the movie adaptation of C. S. Lewis' book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Monday, December 12, 2005

"Who's Your Daddy?" - Alarming Rise in "Fatherless" Pregnancies - A New Challenge to the Family

The following excerpts from an article by sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia tackles an often ignored topic: “assisted reproduction” for the promotion of single motherhood (i.e., intentionally fatherless families).

Wilcox raises a number of chilling points. I commend the full article to you, which includes some heart rending stories of the impact of absent fathers on children. Malachi spoke well when he argued against divorce and in favor of families with BOTH mothers and fathers: “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Mal 2:15, ESV). (12/12/2005, Volume 011, Issue 13;

BIRTHS TO UNMARRIED MOTHERS ARE at a record high in the United States--almost 1.5 million in 2004 alone, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. While the rising trend is of long standing, one novel factor driving up childbearing outside marriage is the growing popularity of single motherhood by donor insemination. The incidence of this "assisted reproduction," as it is called, has more than doubled in the last decade.

Most public discussion of donor insemination for single women has been carried on in a neutral, positive, or breathlessly celebratory tone. Isn't it great, the thinking seems to be, that these women are fulfilling their aspiration to be mothers with the latest technology that medical science can offer? Support groups like Single Mothers by Choice and mainstream publications like the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, and the Washington Post describe donor insemination for unmarried mothers occasionally as a "sad" necessity for women who cannot find "satisfactory" partners, but more often as "awe"-inspiring, "liberating," or "empowering." Television shows like NBC's drama Inconceivable, broadcast this fall, glamorize assisted reproduction.

This enthusiasm is notable at a time when European countries are skeptical enough to actually ban the process. Sweden and Italy bar single mothers from engaging in either in vitro fertilization or use of anonymous sperm (or, in Italy, eggs), and Britain and the Netherlands have banned the anonymous donation of sperm. Also striking is how adult-centered our public conversation has been.

Until recently, virtually no attention was paid to how the children of donor fathers make sense of their experience. Nor has the public debate acknowledged the moral and social ramifications of deliberately creating a whole class of children without identifiable fathers . . .

Why do fathers matter to children? Fathers typically bring an extra pair of hands, an extra set of kin, and extra income to the child-rearing enterprise, not to mention extra concern for the child's well-being. They also perform better than mothers when it comes to disciplining their children--especially their sons. Finally, fathers who are in good marriages with the mothers of their children implicitly teach girls to expect respect from members of the opposite sex, and boys to treat girls and women with respect.

For all these reasons, it is time to bring children's welfare into the discussion of donor-assisted single motherhood. A serious consideration of children's best interests would probably lead us down a regulatory road comparable to that being pursued in Europe, with bans on the donor-insemination of single women and on the anonymous donation of sperm and eggs. It won't be easy to rein in a multibillion-dollar fertility industry that is used to catering to the desires of adults unhindered by regulation or moral objection. Nor is it possible to protect all children from fatherlessness, given the vicissitudes of life. What should be possible is to reject the deliberate conception of children without flesh-and-blood fathers committed to playing a paternal role in their lives.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

"Obsequious" and "Feckless Representation" or "We've done everything humanly possible to challenge and persuade PSW" - Which is it?

One of the regular posters on the ABE message board commented on the recent delegation from the General Executive Council of the ABCUSA to meet with the Pacific Southwest board. Eye witness accounts of both meetings report that while the GEC delegates were sincere and earnest, they brought nothing substantial to divert or redirect the PSW. The next day, when PSW board members gathered, reports indicate that there were some initial concerns among the board regarding timing and manner of action. However, following a brief, but evidently heartfelt time of prayer during the meeting on December 8, the board moved with great unanimity and singlemindedness of spirit.

What follows is my own response to the message board posting suggesting that the GEC delegation report was singularly unsatisfying. Dr. Ronald Ratliff, a pastor from Edina (MN) wrote: "But for my own need to be clear: First, obsequious wording. Second, feckless GEC representation!"


From my experience with national leadership over the years, "obsequious wording" and "feckless representation" are two of the qualities for which Executive Ministers are rewarded. The image of Nero fiddling while Rome burns is the most apt one for me. No matter what disastrous news comes from the churches, PC talk dominates.

Newly minted Executive Ministers generally represent the "best of the best" of our pastoral ranks. However, it does not take long for the culture of Valley Forge to overcome the best intentions of our regional execs.

The report from the GEC delegation sounds like typical Valley Forge-speak. Without such Orwellian verbal gymnastics, how else could you paper over the drop in numbers of missionaries to a paltry 120 or so and other outrages in recent years? For years the AB News Service specialized in disinformation (or more charitably: a refusal to tell the full story and a tendency to propagate only the most self-serving VF versions of events).

We promote mediocrity, rationalize failure, and celebrate our "tolerance" of heresy. Under the cover of the rhetoric of "family," we accept everything from moral failure in high places to painting happy faces on statistics which only chronicle our faithlessness.

The environment of national denominational leadership tends to suck the life and initiative out of otherwise good people, encouraging them to "go along to get along" until they are just like the rest of the gang. The wording in the GEC report is a case in point. One of the authors has gone from an evangelical firebrand to politically correct defender of the status quo in a few short years.

This is what makes Dr. Salico's exemplary courage so striking. He distinguishes himself as willing to stand by convictions rather than merely bide his time until he is old enough to begin collecting his MMBB payments. We all owe him our admiration and continuing prayers for his heroic steadfastness. When you consider that he is temperamentally an incrementalist with deeply held commitments to the ABC as "family," his rare qualities of Godly leadership shine even brighter. Unlike the majority of his colleagues in the REMC, Dale has been willing to tell the emperor that he has no clothes. And, even while he is buffeted by peers and ABC critics, he refuses to vilify them in return. "For such a time as this . . ."

As Dr. Salico often comments, it is never biblical or ethical to play "let's pretend" when you are called to lead. The delegation from the GEC only reinforces how far down the road we are in the ABCUSA. Only an unbiblical and unethical game built on denial and wishful thinking can justify continuation in the ABCUSA as presently constituted.If the ABC had a news magazine, I would nominate Dr. Dale V. Salico as "Daniel of the Year."

Dennis E. McFadden

[Just a So. Cal crazy off his meds and speaking for himself alone]

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Los Angeles Times Picks Up Story of PSW Board Vote: 300 Congregations "Ready to Bolt"

"Durable Data's" Dr. Glenn Layne breaks PSW decision to L.A. Times for second time, despite refusal by regional officials to answer the reporter's calls. One of the nation's leading newspapers thus puts the story in play once again. It should be picked up by the national media over the weekend. (Photograph of Dr. Dale V. Salico, Executive Minister, ABCPSW)

Region's American Baptists Seek Vote on Break With Church

Conservative leaders of 300 congregations in the Southwest are ready to bolt over homosexuality.

By Larry B. Stammer, Times Staff Writer

In a new move toward a break with their national denomination over homosexuality, conservative leaders of 300 American Baptist congregations in Southern California and elsewhere in the Pacific Southwest called Friday for an advisory vote by local churches next May on whether to leave American Baptist Churches USA.

The regional board said it was calling for a vote because it wanted the "guidance and input" of local congregations. Regardless of the vote's outcome, the board has the authority on its own to pull out of the 1.5-million member national denomination.

After two days of closed-door meetings, the regional board issued an unambiguous statement Friday that it wanted to withdraw.

"The American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest Board of Directors recommends that the region withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA," said a statement posted on the region's website.

A telephone call and an e-mail seeking comment from the denomination were not answered.

American Baptist Churches USA is separate from and generally more liberal than the better known Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, which claims 16 million members. In September, regional officials served notice that "deep differences of theological convictions and values" were propelling them toward a possible break because the national church, they said, was not living up to its own 1992 statement that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

For example, some conservative officials are upset that congregations around the country have not been held accountable for blessing same-sex unions. Other congregations say the issue does not touch on their core beliefs and should not divide the church.

Under Baptist governance, however, the 1992 resolution was not binding on local congregations or regions. The national denomination has acknowledged "deep divisions" among American Baptists.

In a move to head off schism, the General Board of American Baptist Churches USA, meeting last month in Green Lake, Wis., approved another statement against homosexuality and same-sex marriage on a 59-45 vote. The statement was inserted into a document titled, "We Are American Baptists." It described American Baptists as those "who submit to the teaching of Scripture that God's design for sexual intimacy places it within the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and acknowledge that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching."

However, the action was not sufficient, according to the Rev. Glenn Layne, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Temple City, who favors secession. "A lot of people really believe it wasn't adopted out of conviction, but out of fear of what we may do," he said.

The decision by the regional board to call for a vote by congregations also came despite unity appeals by the executive ministers of the American Baptist's Rocky Mountains and Maine regions.,1,3321719.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Friday, December 09, 2005

Text of PSW Unanimous Resolution Recommending Separation from the ABCUSA

At the Thursday, December 8, 2005, meeting of the ABCPSW Board of Directors, the following resolution was unanimously approved.

The American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest Board of Directors recommends that the Region withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA. Therefore, the Board of Directors calls for a Special Meeting of delegates from the churches. (Specific date to be confirmed the week of December 12, 2005) The purpose of this meeting of delegates from the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest churches is for the Board to receive an expression of the will of the delegates to provide the Board with the guidance and input it needs to make a responsible and informed decision on withdrawing from the Covenant of Relationships of the American Baptist Churches USA.

Want to Make a Christmas Statement? Go to Church Christmas Eve and Christmas Sunday!

Aslan Has Come! Merry Christmas!

My Lewis-philic wife, some close friends, and I saw the midnight opening of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe early Friday morning. The lateness of the night explains my tardiness in bringing to light the PSW news of the day. Leaving issues of cinematic craftsmanship for others more adept in that venue, this is a "must see" for Christmas. Seldom has Hollywood offered up such a faithful rendering of a Christian book.

The Christ themes are clearly presented without any secularizing sanitation or literary bowdlerization. Aslan comes across as one might expect him to from the books. He is, afterall, not a tame lion. But, as Lucy opines at the end, "He is good."

GEC Delegation Reports: "We've done everything humanly possible to challenge and persuade PSW"

One day prior to the meeting of the PSW board, a delegation of representatives from the GEC met with the board. Here is the first official report of that meeting. The photograph is of Dr. Al Fletcher, Executive Minister of Maine.


We met with the Executive Committee of PSW, comprising Brian Scrivens, Doug Copeland, Daniel Huerta, Jerri Hubbard and Dale Salico on Wednesday, December 7, 2005 from approximately 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the PSW Resource Center.

We were received with grace, kindness and hospitality. The conversation was conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect, characterized by a spirit of openness and honesty. We listened, laughed, challenged, questioned, disagreed, dreamed, lamented and exchanged unscripted thoughts together in an atmosphere of fragile trust. As your delegates, we sought to faithfully represent, the spirit and intent of the recently adopted GEC resolutions.

Accordingly we made a pastoral and passionate appeal on behalf of the GEC for PSW to remain at the ABCUSA table. We communicated both the support of PSW’s sympathizes, as well the anger of those who feel the pain, agony and frustration of broken relationships built over a century in pursuit of a shared vision for ministry. We heard their frustration of their perception of being misunderstood, disrespected and undermined.

We challenged some of their assumptions, were surprised by some of their assertions, and they were surprised by some of the information that we shared. They were encouraged by the fact that we represented all the covenanting partners.

Notwithstanding the positive tone of the meeting, we left feeling that it will take a monumental effort to reverse the advanced and propelling momentum of their intended process. We nevertheless appealed to them to consider a postponement of any continued action until their next scheduled board meeting in February.

The motivation would be a clearer implementation process of the third GEC resolution. We are convinced that the development of such a plan has become essential regardless. We have not excluded God's intervention, knowing that many continue to pray for this process. We now await the actions of the Board meeting to be held later today.

At the end of the process we felt satisfied that we faithfully executed your mandate. We feel satisfied that we have done everything humanly possible to challenge and persuade PSW to reexamine their present course. We felt the power of your prayers and support. For this we thank you.

Your partners in the gospel.

Desmond Hoffmeister and Al Fletcher

Does anyone need more proof that inhaling the air of VF meetings can intoxicate all but the most stalwart among us? My use of the adage, "Where you stand has a lot to do with where you sit," has seldom been more true. Prior to assuming office as the EM of Maine, Dr. Fletcher had a reputation as a evangelical firebrand.

Sadly, like the transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader, there does not appear to be much of the "old Al" left in the current EM of Maine. He is a good man, an interesting man, even a Christian statesman. But, he is not "Al Fletcher" any longer.

Where is Luke Skywalker when we really need him?

Dennis E. McFadden

[Not representing ANY entity in the PSW; just a freelance Star Wars fan with a hyper developed sense of cinnematic allusions]

PSW Board Votes to Recommend Separation from ABCUSA

In order to get the information out as soon as possible, "His Barking Dog" is posting the report as it first came to light even though there is a known schedule conflict with the May date. We will update the facts as soon as they are available.

After several hours of discussion and respectiful debate, the regional board of Directors decided to call the churches of the PSW together on May 6 to consider their recommendation that the region of the ABCPSW withdraw from the covenant of relationships with the ABCUSA.

At a critical point in the discussion, Mr. Brian Scrivens, board chair, declared a recess in the deliberations to spend a season in prayer. From that point in the meeting, grace flowed in new directions and a spirit of unity of conviction prevailed.

I am deliberately leaving out any details of this meeting except the outcome and the prayer meeting because it was conducted in an executive session which the CRMs were asked to participate in.

To God be the glory . . . let us pray for our brothers and sisters throughout the ABC. This decision may have repercussions way beyond the PSW. May true spiritual renewal come in God's time and patience.

Source: PSW Resource Minister Mark Lambert, in a posting on the ABE message board.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Intelligent Church Redesign - "Christianity Today" Weighs in on Denominational Splits, Including the ABC

"His Barking Dog" has been continuing a dialog in print with the postings by Jim Oldham, Interim Executive Minister of the Cleveland Baptist Association. Jim has raised some powerful arguments and clothed them in heart tugging rhetoric to call upon the PSW to give up its idea of separation from the ABCUSA. The current issue of "Christianity Today" features an editorial which directs itself to the exact issues Jim raised, even naming the ABC in the process. Also notice how CT sizes up the problem in the very terms used in this blog: "the core issues are biblical authority, salvation, sanctification, and church discipline, with the presenting issue being the increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior."

"His Barking Dog" includes the full text of the editorial for your edification. The response to the John 17 High Priestly Prayer passage closely parallels what we have argued in this blog over the past few weeks.

Intelligent Church Redesign
It's a sad but necessary reality that some denominational splits are justified.
A Christianity Today editorial

A third-century critic of Christianity named Celsus mocked Christians because they were divided into competing sects. He was referring mainly to the divisions between Gnostic and orthodox Christians. The great defender of Christianity, Origen, wondered what was Celsus' problem. These divisions were not over "small and trivial things," he argued, but about "the most important matters," and thus, as any philosopher would agree, a mark of intellectual seriousness.

Origen's point seems lost today as many observers criticize the breakup of a number of venerable denominations. The latest statistics for the Episcopal Church (USA) show a loss of 100 members per day in 2003—and this before the major defections following the 2003 General Convention that made a bishop of a man who had left his wife and children for a gay lover. We would not place our bets against a worldwide fissure in Anglicanism, the third-largest Christian body on the planet.

Similar defections are now occurring in the American Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ. As with the Anglicans, the core issues are biblical authority, salvation, sanctification, and church discipline, with the presenting issue being the increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior. In some regions, homosexual behavior is openly affirmed; in others, it is quietly tolerated but never disciplined, even if church law forbids it.

Nothing in John 17 nor the rest of Scripture suggests that oneness demands institutionalized unity. Some argue that leaving a church body is always the greater sin. They point to the lamentable, historical fact that many church splits have been over "small and trivial things." But surely the authority of Scripture, the meaning of salvation, and the integrity of the church are not small and trivial.

"But it's premature," they reply. "You've got to give reform a chance." In some instances, like the Episcopal Church (USA), reform has been attempted for 40 years—and things have only gotten worse. Theological and moral apostasy is so entrenched in some places that many have concluded it is a fool's errand to seek to unseat it. Intellectual seriousness, they say, demands an honest appraisal of the situation.

"But look at Jesus' prayer in John 17," some say, "and how urgently he prays that his disciples will be one." Indeed, that is the reason we should lament even the most justifiable of church splits. But nothing in John 17 nor the rest of Scripture suggests that oneness demands institutionalized unity, certainly not where unity of belief is lacking.

The paradox today is that biblically minded Congregationalists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Roman Catholics experience more genuine unity across organizational boundaries than they do within their own traditions. Many fail to recognize that Christ's prayer for unity is indeed being answered, though the shape of that unity is not what we had imagined.

This is not to deny that in the long run, we should seek greater unity among the faithful. What that unity looks like this side of the kingdom may be subject to debate, but the goal should not be. We continue to applaud reformers in troubled denominations where there is clearly cause for hope. For example, United Methodist courts recently upheld orthodox practice (see "Deciding for Orthodoxy," p. 20). But given the crisis of some situations, we do not feel a one-style ecumenism fits all.

Finally, if there has to be a split over "the most important matters," can both parties agree not to impugn motives or practice character assassination? And can they settle their property differences out of court—or even display uncommon generosity in simply giving to him who asks, as Jesus commands (Luke 6:30)?
This would not only be a mark of intellectual seriousness, but also of genuine Christian charity.

Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.December 2005, Vol. 49, No. 12, Page 27

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"Creating a New Future" - Spawning a Movement of Churches

Bill Nicoson released an update on the progress of the work of the Vision Architects. They have been actively engaged in charting the course for the post-Lombard movement.

Creating a New FutureDownload File Here
by Bill Nicoson

ABE continues toward a transition that will spawn a new movement of churches dedicated to living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandments of scripture. On January 17-18 and February 8-9, the Vision Architects team will meet for two full days (each month) of intensive work focused on developing a structure and means to carry out our new vision. I am excited about the prospects of this new beginning, but I want to share my concerns that are ever present in this genesis of the movement.

First, we are in spiritual warfare (Eph. 6). If we are not in a constant state of prayer, continually asking God for His protection, discernment and wisdom, we are lost. I hope that you are praying for me, the Vision Architects and for Bill Hoyt, who has been a great instrument of help during this time. Prayer must be the foundation of the new movement. Will you consider joining me in prayer on a weekly basis (at least one day a week, during which you can focus on our new movement in your prayer time), asking God to direct us and give us a clear picture of His heart for us?

Second, the end result must benefit the local church. Our focus and structure must serve the church. Our organization has to be a network that, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:21-22, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you are too being built together ….” We must rely on the Holy Spirit to help us major on the majors and minor on the minors.

Third, I am concerned that we have been dependent on the denomination to the point that we suffer from spiritual atrophy. Since we met in Lombard, there has been much grieving over the denomination and the separation from it. I am aware of the trauma and setback many of us have felt. I know that “closure” will come more quickly for some than others. However, if we do not focus on the future and think about our vision and what we can aspire to be, we will be forever lost in the conundrum of trying to fix things or still “have it our way” in our own minds. In other words, don’t let the past impair your spiritual eyesight.

Fourth, this movement must be missional. As Dr. Charles Revis challenged us in Lombard, “We must believe this Gospel has the power to change the world.” One of the reasons I enlisted Bill Hoyt to help us in this transition is that he has, in my opinion, an incredible world view. One of the questions I have been asking is, “What can we do collectively that one church cannot do by itself?” That question hasn’t quite been answered satisfactorily; however, I think the answer is becoming clearer to me. The ONLY THING that can have a thousand times more impact in our world than a single solitary church is a group of churches with a mission-centered focus.

Finally, I want to reiterate what Dr. Revis shared with us concerning birthing a new movement. He challenged us to operate more like a network than a denomination. Networks are appearing daily through the internet as well as other means. Every local church has access to some form of network or another. Dr. Revis also stated that we should continue to adhere to the Baptist form of associationalism. The Philadelphia Baptist Association that was formed in 1707 influenced Baptists for the next hundred years. They knew they could accomplish more for the kingdom together than they could individually. The association provided recruitment, ordination, education, printed materials, home missions (sharing funds to financially starved churches and relief of widows), models for preaching, fellowship for those who felt isolated because of their beliefs of biblical authority, etc.

I continue to be deeply grateful to Dr. Revis for his challenge. It was exactly what we needed and I contend that it will be an historic piece in the new movement’s history. (If you missed reading or would like to reread Dr. Revis’ message, visit our web site at and select “Resources,” then “Articles.”) I am so hopeful for the future, but it can happen only if we are totally dependent on God and his leading. We must not let the past guide us; it should serve only inform us as we create a future of dynamic churches presenting a dynamic gospel to a broken and fallen world.

[His Barking Dog offers commentary, both original and featuring other voices, without any representation to be speaking for any entity or person in the PSW]