Wednesday, September 28, 2005
A modest proposal for the post-Lombard future of the evangelical movement in the ABCUSA.
A trial balloon,
By Dennis E. McFadden
ABCUSA membership numbers represent a variety of realities. They include the nearly 6,000 people attending the High Desert Church in Victorville and the 35 folks in the rural Iowa farming community. But they also count the federated church that devotes most of its denominational interest to the UCC, the mega church dually aligned with the National Baptists which has never spent any time cultivating its ABC connection, and the church in Los Angeles pastored by a man who told me today that he has never made much of being American Baptist in his congregation. In other words, we are a mixed multitude, full of the involved and the indifferent, the active and the apathetic.
What does this have to do with post-Lombard evangelicalism? Just this. Many of our most “progressive” congregations have two identities. The AWAB church in MA pastored by the Rev. Cynthia Maybeck, a lesbian who married her lover last year and precipitated the Pacific Southwest by-laws change proposal in the Ministers Senate, affiliates with both the ABCUSA and the UCC. The historic congregation, The Riverside Church of New York City, proudly boasts of its interdenominational character as an ABC/UCC fellowship. Many of our most important predominantly African American congregations partner with another denomination besides the ABC.
Evangelicals could follow the example of our progressive friends and claim dual membership: remaining ABC, even if it means little more than lip service, while devoting most of their cooperative and associative energies to the new and vital fellowship birthed out of the Lombard experience. For congregations currently divided in their loyalties, for the church struggling with the attachment bonds of tradition, for the isolated marginal church uncertain of its very survival, joining the new evangelical fellowship might be easier to implement if it did not involve an ugly fight over the ABCUSA at the same time.
This would afford church members the opportunity to "road test" the new evangelical organization without losing anything. They could see how the evangelicals resource their network, how annual or biennial gatherings address worship and fellowship needs, and whether the new group has the staying power to be there into the years to come. Tackling the identity issue head on may result in more heat than light in some places. Dual alignment would avoid much of the immediate pressure and provide a living laboratory for observing (and tasting) the fruits of the new evangelical group.
This little proposal does not pretend to be a complete, systematic, or final position. Regions and/or congregations able to withdraw from the ABCUSA might be better served by that course of action. However, for those caught in the middle of the muddle, this suggestion may have some limited merit.
[These are my own observations and opinions. I did not discuss this posting with any employee from PSW, nor should anyone interpret my opinions as representing the PSW or any other entity]