Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What Does the Parchment Valley Agreement Mean?

A News Analysis
by Dennis E. McFadden

What does the Parchment Valley Agreement really mean? In the days since it was announced last week, much ink has been spilled discussing the implications of the covenant between eight ABCUSA regions (with two more likely in the next few days). Representing more than 40% of the ABCUSA (more than 50% when the other two regions sign onto the accord), the press release (9/22/05) announces the intention as follows: “We are an association of Executive Ministers committed to authentic covenantal relationships with one another in order that our regions can cooperate in mission.” Proclaiming core values of Biblical Authority, Associational Integrity & Accountability among Regions, Leadership Development, and Equipping our churches to impact the world for Christ, leaves unsaid some of the relational dynamics and the broader downstream implications. In the main, this concord emphasizes a movement toward congregational focus, ministry resourcing, and con-joint efforts among regions representing at least half of the membership of the ABCUSA. The thrust was positive, cordial, and familial.

In last week’s “Summons to Lead” gathering in Lombard, two of the principals spoke publicly about the meaning of the agreement. Both Al Fletcher (Maine) and Larry Swain (Ohio) addressed the assembly of more than 350 ABC pastors and lay leaders. They spoke movingly of their satisfaction with the agreement among like-minded executives to do ministry, focus on the local congregations, and include the soon-to-be withdrawing Dale Salico (Pacific Southwest) in their covenant relationship. As Fletcher put it: “What did the congregations of Maine do to you to make you want to break covenant with us?” Fletcher expressed a desire to see shared ministry and fellowship continue regardless of PSW’s official relationship to Valley Forge, or to the Office of the General Secretary. When asked if this might possibly provide a context for the PSW to return to the “fold” of ABCUSA, Swain made it very clear that Dr. Salico said, “no.” PSW is not thinking about re-examining that commitment, according to Swain.

By way of analysis, both relational and organizational dynamics should be considered. Relationally, Executive Ministers all appear to have a warm and cordial relationship with Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of the ABCUSA. He is both an engaging and gracious man, profoundly decent, and markedly spiritual. His passion for unity is genuine and often spoken in every venue. Unlike some of his predecessors, Dr. Medley speaks in his “own voice” and with the same emphasis regardless of whether he meets with those on the left or the right. But, the Executive Ministers meeting in Parchment Valley also have very warm fellowship with each other. As essentially like-minded, they represent the center-right coalition within the ABCUSA. In contrast to some progressive voices on the left, the PV leaders seek to maintain an essentially evangelical presence within the ABCUSA.

Contrary to some previously published reports, the meeting was regularly scheduled and openly held. The agreement, on one level, simply recognizes the desire to continue in covenantal relationship and to lift up certain core values for ministry regardless of what happens in the broader ABCUSA context.

One should not, however, miss the larger organizational and political realities. When asked what PV meant, one EM told me that it was an incremental step taken which recognizes a gradual “pulling away” from the ABCUSA. Two other principals have openly voiced that Dr. Medley was most unhappy with the agreement. Reportedly he objected to a subgroup forming their own ad hoc fellowship rather than working things out in the context of a full General Executive Council gathering. Further, he took the covenant to include PSW as negative insofar as it allows PSW to remain in covenant with ABC regions once it ceases to be in fellowship with ABCUSA.

But, finally the agreement does apparently represent (at least according to a couple of the EMs) an intention to say "we aren't going to keep doing things this way any longer." The refusal to enforce the '92 resolution is viewed as tearing up the denomination. As one EM put it, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome. We can't go along with this program any longer. We need to stand up and say 'no!'"

Downstream realities often move well beyond anticipated outcomes. Ask a participant of the PV meeting what happened and you will likely hear a story of fellowship, friendship, and renewed commitment to shared mission. In the context of the ABCUSA conflict, however, this observer sees potential for a radical re-alignment within the ABCUSA. Center right voices are now moving into position to work more closely together, perhaps presaging a new denominational reality once the General Board rejects (?) the IN/KY proposal in its second reading this fall.

[These are my own observations based on the Lombard gathering and my own independent conversations with EMs present in Parchment Valley. I did not discuss this with any employee from PSW, nor should anyone interpret my opinions as representing the PSW or any other entity]


Tom said...

This surely resembles what lawmakers in the U.S. Senate have done to combat judicial gridlock, forming a super subgroup with exceptional clout although the political coalition is markedly centrist and the PV contingency as you have said, more to the right.

I am encouraged by this accord and trust more will be forthcoming.

PastorTom Marker
FBC Gas City IN.

baptistlikeme said...

Almost a year removed from this post, have your thoughts changed any? The General Board accepted the IN/KY addition to the "We Are American Baptists" document. Did that take the wind out of these sails in your opinion?