Monday, October 31, 2005

Methodist Court Defrocks Lesbian Minister, Upholds Church's Standards on Sexual Ethics

Beth Stroud (left) and her partner Chris at press conference (Photo Courtesy UMNS / Mike Dubose)

The United Methodist Church’s highest court defrocked an openly lesbian Philadelphia minister, Beth Stroud, who defied the church’s prohibition against clergy sexually active outside of marriage. The Judicial Council, meeting in Houston, also ruled that the bishop of Virginia was incorrect to suspend a pastor, Ed Johnson, who refused to accept into church membership an openly homosexual man who would not accept the church’s teachings.

“These rulings show that United Methodism is NOT moving in the direction of the Episcopal Church and declining liberal Protestantism in the West,” said Mark Tooley, who directs the IRD’s program for United Methodists. “Instead, America’s third largest religious body is moving in the direction of global Christianity, which is robustly orthodox.”

What do we make of the Judicial Council decision? For years Methodists have been making a perceptible move to the left. Some will read this decision as a swing of the pendulum back toward the orthodox center. However, since many of these kinds of rulings get decided on exceedingly fine points of procedure and church law, it is difficult to draw generalizing conclusions from this session of the ecclesiastical court. In this instance, the Stroud case was determined 6-2, with the Johnson decision more narrowly decided by a 5-3 majority.

Mark Tooley, of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, observed: “Thankfully, the Judicial Council has upheld the clear meaning of United Methodism’s standards on marriage and sex, which have been repeatedly ratified by the church’s governing General Conference every four years since 1972. Undoubtedly, some in the declining regions of the church will continue to try to find ways to circumvent church law. The debate over this issue will certainly continue for some years. But the future of the church, whose membership is increasingly international, belongs to theological orthodoxy and historic Christianity.”

With revisionist theologies prevailing in the seminaries and among much of the bureaucracy, declarations of final victory for orthodoxy would seem premature.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Celebrating the Re-Birthday of the Church - October 31, 1517

This morning Kathy, my good and Godly assistant and a LCMS pastor's wife, greeted me with a cheerful "Blessed Reformation Day." Strange words to say to a Baptist. But quite appropriate. If Pentecost was the birthday of the Church, then October 31, 1517 marks its second birth. 488 years ago, a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther finally reached the limits of his patience with the corrupt practice of indulgence peddling. Rejecting Johann Tetzel’s crude techniques for merchandising God’s grace, Luther posted his now famous 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle church door.

Originally intended as an invitation to dialogue, Luther’s action prompted a revolution that carried out its campaigns under the banner of “Justification by Faith,” using the slogans of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Christus, Sola Gratia, and Soli Deo Gloria. Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, the formal cause of the Reformation, gave the Word of God a priority in authority even over that of church tradition.

As Luther put it: “The Word must stand, for God cannot lie; and heaven and earth must go to ruins before the most insignificant letter or tittle of His Word remains unfulfilled.” He cited Augustine approvingly as saying: “I have learned to hold only the Holy Scripture inerrant.” Although written by human authors, Luther maintained that “He who would not read these stories in vain must firmly hold that Holy Scripture is not human but divine wisdom.”

Nearly 500 years later, with mainline denominational drift into all manner of accommodation with secular wisdom, Luther’s heroic stand takes on as great a significance today. Blessed Reformation Day Kathy (and all the rest of you who appreciate the liberating news of the Gospel)!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

What is an Existential Liberal? Looking for the "Big Story" in a World Without Metanarratives

Dr. Glenn Layne's Durable Data,, always serves the evangelical community well with insightful commentary. However, today's blog, Theological "Liberalism" Does Not Exist, deserves special commendation. If you don't read Durable Data every day, you are missing out. Add it to your favorites!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Letter to L.A. Baptists About Visit by Medley and Team - the Four Horsemen of Valley Forge are Coming!

Recently Los Angeles pastors received a letter from their Executive Minister, Dr. Samuel S. Chetti, inviting them to attend a meeting with the four principal members of the ABCUSA management team. This will take place the same week as Dr. Medley and his team make appearances in National City, Redlands, and Pasadena (all PSW venues). "His Barking Dog" offers readers the complete text of Dr. Chetti's letter with some analysis and reflections by your blogger.

October 24, 2005

Dear Colleagues in Ministry:

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you and your ministry staff to a very important meeting regarding the issue of homosexual lifestyle and the current crisis within the American Baptist family of congregations.

We will meet on Wednesday, November 9, 2005 from 10:00 a.m. - 12 noon at First Baptist Church, Los Angeles - 760 S. Westmoreland Ave. - Los Angeles, (213) 384-2151. (Light refreshments will be served prior to the meeting).

Present at this meeting will be Rev. Roy Medley, General Secretary, Rev Dr. Sumner Grant, Executive Director, MMBB, Rev. Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins, Executive Director, National Ministries and Rev. Charles Jones, Acting Executive Director of International Ministries. They will answer questions as well as explain the mission and vision of American Baptist Churches, USA and it’s ministries.

The program will begin with my presentation of the American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles stand on the issue of the homosexual lifestyle and how this region is responding to the crisis. This will be followed by the presentation from our national staff.

Please be in prayer regarding this meeting and be present with us to address this issue. Looking forward to seeing you on November 9th. Please call (213) 955-4941 to confirm your attendance and the number of staff people that will be in attendance.

In the bonds of Christ,

(Signed: Dr. Samuel S. Chetti)

One can note a difference in agenda from the visit by Dr. Medley and ABCUSA President Peggy Johnson to PSW in September. Then the purpose was to listen to pastors articulate their concerns to the leadership of the ABCUSA. Now the ostensible reason for the meeting is to receive a "presentation from our national staff." Dr. Chetti advertises that the time will include both questions from the audience AND an opportunity for the ABCUSA management team to "explain the mission and vision of the ABCUSA."

Several months ago, Dr. Jeff Woods, Associate General Secretary for Regional Relationships, reportedly suggested that the issue of homosexuality was not a significant problem to the ABCUSA. In an extended meeting with several executive ministers at his house, he advanced the view that if the denomination keeps its focus on the outcome of the recent "Seek It" process, "we will be fine." Clearly, part of the agenda in the three PSW venues and the visit to the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles in early Novemeber will deal with a positive statement of denominational vision and mission. The presentation of the newly adopted mission/vision statement coming out of "Seek It" has been somewhat muted and eclipsed by crises as Valley Forge leaders have been compelled to deal with the PSW and other regional discontent.

Following the script of Hossler Communications, our ABCUSA re-branding consulting firm, Valley Forge has already held two meetings with selected leaders from throughout the country designed to rally support for the beleaguered national leadership. The pirated memo from the Office of the General Secretary, dated May 18, 2005, released earlier in the summer by ABE, identified the need to follow up the Biennial with "the pro-ABC word" in order to "counter the responses from dissatisfied regions that will likely occur."

The question remains: Will the visit by the Four Horsemen of Valley Forge accomplish the purposes it has been set out to or not? Some pastors have already expressed a disinclination to attend the meetings. In September, the pastoral and congregational leaders sent Dr. Medley and President Johnson back to Valley Forge with a collective cry, "Enough!" Several have suggested that their presence at these new meetings might be misinterpreted as support for the national leadership.

Others have been exhorting pastors to attend the gatherings, lest the disproportionate presence of Valley Forge supporters be taken to suggest congregational dissatisfaction with the PSW leadership. The appearance in Los Angeles carries an entirely different set of connotations since Dr. Chetti has consistently positioned his region as broadly evangelical but totally supportive of denominational unity. It will be interesting to see if this difference in context translates into a friendlier ambiance than in the three PSW meetings.

[The comments in this blog belong to the author solely and should not be confused with the official position of the PSW or of any person or entity within the PSW]

A Proposed Resolution in the Diocese of Vermont to Support the Episcopal Coalition to Abolish Biblical Literalism (ECABL)

News and Views
By Dennis E. McFadden

A new term has entered the ecclesiastical lexicon. Rather than merely castigating conservatives as "evangelicals" (a term laden with unsavory overtones in many ethnic communities) or "fundamentalists" (virtually an epithet of revulsion since the rise of Islamo-fascism), our Episcopal sisters and brothers in Vermont have opted for the term, "Biblical Literalism." They have even proposed the creation of an Episcopal Coalition to Abolish Biblical Literalism (ECABL).

Resolved, That the 173rd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont support the creation of the Episcopal Coalition to Abolish Biblical Literalism (ECABL), provide funding for ECABL for a period of three years (2006-2008) at a minimum of $1.00 each year, and receive a report from ECABL regarding its activities while it is supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont; and be it further

Resolved, That we of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont support every effort to free our Episcopal and Anglican Church from the slavery of Biblical Literalism which might be used to separate us from our sisters and brothers made in the image of God and used to marginalize persons who may be different from us: persons of color, women, and gay and lesbian persons; and be it further

Resolved, That we call upon the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church to support all international efforts to free the church from the slavery of Biblical Literalism, especially as it is used to marginalize persons different from us: persons of color, women, and gay and lesbian persons . . .

[Posted in ECUSA Dioc Conv, ECUSA and cited in]

The explanation of the proposed resolution recounts that authority in Historic Anglicanism has been “based on the authority of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, and the use of these authorities leads to wise, healthy, and holy Biblical Literacy.” However, “Biblical Literalism” has been used to support “unjust and immoral positions by the Episcopal Church.”

Named among the immoral stands buttressed by appeals to “Biblical Literalism” have been slavery and, more recently, a rejection of Civil Unions for homosexuals. Admitting that all may not agree that Civil Unions are an “outward and visible sign” of God’s work, the drafters of the document put forth their resolution as a beneficial first step to begin moving toward a more healthful approach to the Bible.

You've come a long way, baby! We have migrated from the "Thy Word is truth" days of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer to the ECABL. Such progress!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

What Do We Make of the PSW Trip by the VF Management Team? Trick or Treat

A News Analysis
By Dennis E. McFadden

What do we make of the impending trip by the ABC management team to the PSW and Los Angeles a few days hence? Some have suggested that this may be a painful visit for Dr. Medley, particularly following his disastrous meeting with leaders here in September. The aftermath of that meeting was an all but unanimous (one dissenting vote) decision by the PSW board to initiate withdrawal from the ABCUSA. The following represents one person’s opinion on what might surface during the trip scheduled for the second week in November.

First, this is not a "glutton for punishment" scenario by a team looking to be overwhelmed by opposition. It may have more of the ambiance of a Stephen King movie. The point is to appear in San Diego, Redlands, Pasadena, and L.A. FBC (where, incidentally, my younger brother is a deacon) and scare the listeners into "understanding" what terrible consequences would befall a withdrawal from ABCUSA. The letter Dr. Medley sent to PSW pastors came with the signatures of the whole team: Roy, Sumner, Charles, and Aidsand.

Secondly, as I have blogged earlier, Sumner's separate letter was pretty cut and dried. While it promises no changes for current retirees, it carries a chilling message to working members. It will take away most (if not all) of the reasons why American Baptists have been so loyal to MMBB over the years. Without the safety net of grants to needy members, Thank You checks, Center for Ministry subsidies, and the promise of educational grants to the children of deceased members, why should PSW members choose MMBB?

Without the “non contractual benefits,” it becomes just another retirement plan. And, since the disability and life insurance portions of the 16% (not to mention the 1% going for administration) may or may not be competitive with other providers, it opens the door to shopping around for a better deal. CBF leaders did their due diligence and concluded the ABC represented the best home for their pensions. However, considering the vagaries of rates and health conditions, some pastors may find an alternative plan to be more cost effective than the venerable MMBB.

We are still awaiting word on any private conversations between PSW leaders and Dr. Grant. If they can come to terms on an on-going relationship, then many of my fears may become moot. However, as it currently stands, Sumner's presence in the PSW will carry the overtones of the role of enforcer (cf. Glenn's blog,, with the picture of Marlon Brando as the "Godfather").

Thirdly, with regard to Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins' presence ("Ace" to those of us who knew him from his student days), the Stephen King scenario is different. As the organization within VF (next to OGS) most often criticized by those on the right, Ace does not come with many warm fuzzies related to his own shop. The failure of the 2010 campaign to catch fire and the lack of funding for an aggressive church planting effort in PSW by NM does nothing to enhance his position.

However, he can be depended upon to play the tune of diversity, reminding everyone how ethnically diverse the ABCUSA is and how important that reality is to authentic Christianity. With a rich history of social justice initiatives, Dr. Wright-Riggins has a number of important stories to tell. Still, the sub-text may be to remind the non-White pastors present that NM has been there for them all these years, has advocated courageously for their civil rights and for their right to be at the table. Do they really want to withdraw from their advocates and long-time allies and trust themselves to these "evangelicals" (a term which often carries the connotations of "racist" in the wider semantic field understood by minority communities)?

Fourthly, the most delicate task falls to the person least equipped with corporate memory to handle it deftly. The Rev. Charles Jones has only been an American Baptist for the last few years. He is a very bright, extremely committed, gentle man, passionate for the ministry of BIM. However, he neither knows where most of the bones are buried, nor does he have much depth of experience dealing with the PSW. Yet, PSW provides the largest single regional contribution to BIM of any of the ABC entities.

Charles will come tasked with the job of telling the old, old story of ABC successes on the field, of sacrificial ministries in the name of Jesus, of often heroic actions by generations of ABC missionaries. His role will be to show PSW what they stand to lose if they mess up this wonderful synergy of foreign outreach. With a long and proud history of successes in Burma, Thailand, Congo, and elsewhere, Charles will have a rich cache of emotionally evocative stories to draw on if he wants to do so.

However, his message may be somewhat muted by the reality of how funding works in the ABC. PSW has no obligation to continue supporting BIM and VF knows it. If Charles overplays his hand, he may alienate the very donors he depends upon to support his area of responsibility. And, the objective situation is not nearly so cherry. The number of ABCUSA foreign workers has declined to a paltry 128 or so in recent years.

Many evangelical congregations already support varieties of “faith missions” in addition to their ABC giving (e.g., my daughter serves with TEAM and receives generous support from our ABC church). And, funding levels for BIM have been in crisis mode for several years with a large special appeal needed this past year to “save” field workers from returning home.

Additionally, Dr. Medley has treated the current vice-president of BIM, Dr. Vic Gordon, a PSW pastor, badly. Medley came down hard on Gordon last year during the Cortez debacle, even suggesting that he resign for the good of the "family." And, PSW members of the Executive Committee of the General Board (which includes Gordon) were told they were no longer welcome in that body due to "conflict of interest" and "loyalty to the ABC" reasons. Vic is a member of the ABE executive committee and the Northern Seminary board (he holds degrees from Stanford and Fuller, including a Ph.D. in NT). He has served as a professor and chaplain at Wheaton and as a long-term pastor of Wichita, one of our premier ABC congregations. Treating him badly does not enhance the reputation of BIM at a time when so much is in flux.

So, bottom line: the road show carries the overtones of a Halloween fright night. Regardless of the talking points being used by the foursome, the not so subtle sub-text may be to scare and dissuade pastors and congregational leaders from supporting the PSW proposed withdrawal. It promises to be a real trick or treat time by a group with lots of tricks and few treats to offer.

[This opinion piece was written without any consultation or approval by PSW officials. It represents the ideas of the blogger solely and should not be taken as speaking for any entity within the PSW. As an opinion piece, it will almost certainly differ from the interpretations given to the upcoming meeting by all of the principals, all of whom I know and like a great deal.]

Good News on Previoius Report Regarding Native American Ministries

An e-mail surfaced today on the ABE Message Board, claiming to have been written by Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins, III. Since it apparently contradicts earlier blogs of mine (“First Report from the PSW Annual Meeting in Bakersfield (CA) Plus Comment” and “What is the Logic of the Hardball Tactics by ABCUSA?”), the following is the printed e-mail from Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins III and my responses.

Dear NM Board Member:

The purpose of this brief email is to address a rumor that is circulating throughout the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest. The allegation is that National Ministries is defunding Native American ministry efforts, support of Native American leaders in the Pacific Southwest and confiscating property as a means of punishing the region and Native American supporters of the region as they contemplate withdrawal from the denomination's Covenant of Relationships.

Let me just say that this rumor is completely untrue. Unfortunately persons have been either misinformed or ill informed about this. If you have any questions or concerns about this matter, please feel free to contact me, either through email or at my office numbers, 610-768-2400 or 800.ABC-3USA ext. 2400. Our Native American Ministry Strategist, Wil Brown, also stands ready to address any questions and concerns you may have. Wil may be reached at 800.ABC-3USA ext. 2019. Thank you.

With hope,

Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III Executive Director

What I reported was spoken in a public session of the PSW annual meeting in front of hundreds of people. It was recorded on DVD and is available for anyone to purchase (for a nominal fee). I flagged my comments at the time by saying that they represented what was SAID to the meeting by representatives of the Native American ministries. I stand by the accuracy of my REPORT which identified that I did not know whether it was true or not, merely that is was a true report of what was said to the PSW meeting.

I have personally verified with the principal and SEVERAL of his colleagues the following: Subsequent to the PSW board vote, NM immediately fired the PSW person doing work with Native American ministries. I was told directly by the person terminated that his firing was backdated to the very moment of the board vote by PSW.

My "guess" is that someone in NM may have jumped the gun, scared the pastors in Arizona with veiled (and perhaps not so veiled) threats, and then got the correct interpretation by ED, Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins.

Remember that initial reports of the PSW vote made it sound as if the board had withdrawn from the ABCUSA (which they do have the power to do under the Covenant of Relationships; it does NOT require a vote of the churches). Reactions by VF, even draconian ones, might make some sense in that context. As the story unfolded, VF realized (???) that the PSW board had elected to "recommend" rather than to actually withdraw from ABCUSA.

This would also help us to understand why widely reported comments to the General Board representatives from PSW were made as they were. VF treated the PSW vote as an official act of disloyalty by PSW to "break" the covenant. PSW officials have consistently explained it as a vote to "initiate" or to begin a process which MAY lead to "withdrawal" from the covenant IFF the congregations concur.

Obviously, it is what it is: PSW slapped VF in the face, regardless of the legal niceties. However, talk about ending subsidies as early as the end of the year SOUNDS like either a pastor dramatically misunderstood a common sense warning of consequences by a NM worker or that the staffer assumed that the end of the year was the time when PSW would be out of the ABC.

Also note that PSW initially voted to break the Budget Covenant as of Dec 31 (since modified to correspond to the time of the vote by the churches). Because VF interprets the covenants as a seamless whole, it would be reasonable for them to assume that Dec 31 would trigger a breach with the "family" with or without a vote by the region's congregations. As the ABCUSA documents are written, the "covenant" is not between members or congregations but between regions and national entities.

What we have in the NM e-mail is clever in that while it never says that VF changed its mind or that someone in NM may have used intimidation tactics with Native American churches, it states that such is not the case NOW. It also engages in a gratuitous slap at those present in the PSW meeting who reported faithfully what the pastors said and what was recorded on the video.

If you want verification of the initial report, view the DVD. It will clearly reveal what was told to the PSW conferees and the reactions that some of them had to it. Any inaccuracies in reporting the event will, therefore, me mine alone.

It is possible that the man who reported being fired was lying. However, since he is also on the PSW staff, that would be a stretch. It would involve Dr. Salico in the lie; he would be guilty by association. It is possible that nobody ever threatened the pastors in Arizona and that those pastors are also lying. The fact that more than one person stood and reported on VF reaction, leaves this interpretation straining credulity as well. The most VF-friendly explanation would be that the pastors "misunderstood" what was communicated to them from NM. In that case their reports to the PSW annual meeting COULD be based upon a misunderstanding.

I suspect that VF people did in fact communicate with pastors to Native Americans in Arizona, articulating likely consequences in order to scare the pastors. This would correspond to meetings with Asian pastors and Hispanic pastors where national staffers have already made special and unusual trips to "dialogue" with ethnic ministers about consequences if the PSW withdraws. Based upon my own research, I believe they also acted promptly to fire a person ministering to Native American congregations (contact the PSW office to verify that fact - 626-915-7641). Was there a measure of misinformation or misunderstanding by the pastors? Who knows?

Dr. Wright-Riggins III, a decent and honest man, indicates that however it unfolded, VF does not currently intend to follow through on the threats reported to the PSW gathering. Good! That is a welcome piece of news. May it presage other positive signs of responsible and amicable disengagement.

Dennis E. McFadden

[This post is DEFINITELY my own opinion. Do not take it as speaking for ANYBODY in PSW at all. It is my own reflection on the situation and attempt to answer the question]

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rosa Parks, We Salute You!

By Roy Donkin

Rosa Parks died on Monday at age 92. The obituaries say that she was shy and quiet... an ordinary woman... who did an extraordinary thing and changed the world. In 1955 she refused to give up her seat. My guess is that she was tired and her feet hurt and she was tired of deferring.

She shows me that an ordinary person with courage to do what is right can make a difference. A little black woman on a bus in 1955 changed the world. So can you. So can I. So must you. So must I.

Thank you for your courage Sister Rosa. You are an inspiration.

One thing on which all American Baptists should be able to agree would be the crucial role played by Rosa Parks as an icon for civil rights. I am including this post from a friend's blog because it captures the gratitude most of us feel for the historical role she played in this difficult period of our history.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What Happens if the Middle Isn't the Majority We Thought It Was? (Dr. Medley as Col. Custer?)

Ms. Susan Gillies, Executive Minister and the head of the Regional Executive Ministers Council in the ABC, has responded to Dwight's "Shrinking Middle" posting in their shared blog, “ABC Views from the Middle" (http://abcviews

Ms. Gillies reacts in surprise to Dwight’s analysis of the “shrinking middle” in the ABC. She asks: “What do you want, Dwight? Do you want to recommend the middle make an alliance with the right? Or the left? (Do you want to suggest which one?) Does that mean, whack off the other side and move on? Does your scientific mind require resolution? Will we continue to do this every time we disagree?”

After a blog filled with good questions, pained reflections, and rhetorical observations, she notes:

Dwight writes about a shrinking middle. Another part of what he described is what I call a “sagging” middle. I realize the word “sag” is not appreciated by persons past 50 who resent the thought of anything “sagging.” But life is what it is. The truth is, a taught rope will eventually sag. It just happens.

Some members of the radical middle in ABC life are sagging. Time goes on. The issues can’t be fully resolved. No one seems to win -- and when they do, they act like they’ve lost. We tire of living in the in between.

What happens if the middle disappears? If that happens, what will bring left and right to the table of listening, learning, growing? I can understand why folks on the left and those on the right would like to walk away – just hang out with folks who think like they do.

What’s happening now is that the middle is weary and may walk away. The destination is unclear, however, the consequences are very clear.

Susan evidently still lives in the world of the orthodox VF mythology (meant in the technical scholarly sense of explanatory archetypes and governing ideas, not in the popular vernacular of "untrue"). She has imbibed too much of Dr. Medley's intoxicating elixir leading her to believe that the ABC is distributed along a spectrum of 10%-80%-10%.

IFF you believe that only 20% of the people are with Herzog/AWAB/Roger Williams Fellowship and Nicoson/ABE combined, then what do you have to lose? Go ahead, appeal to the middle; throw raw meat to the "Baptist distinctives" crowd; show an embarrassingly self serving Tony Campolo video praising yourself; utter double-speak about being personally traditional AND not wanting to let go of your sisters and brothers who disagree with you for reasons of conscience. If you can rally the 80% in the middle with an unholy combination of "radical" Baptist individualism coupled with a Billy Graham allusion and a mission story or two, why not? You might even cherry pick a few percent off the 10% on the right. And, by promising the left that they will be a protected class under your administration, you might even be able to co-opt them from giving you any static. All in all, a pretty smart strategy IFF the middle is composed of 80% of the people.

But, if Dwight is correct in his belated awareness that the middle is much smaller than 80%, then you have a whole different set of challenges. The Biennial message and Roger Willians Fellowship rant become declarations of war not just on a fringe group but on the bulk of American Baptists. The applause lines, reportedly crafted by the pen of Bob Roberts especially for the occasion (I would still like some confirmation on that charge), become a drumbeat of indictment against a leadership out of touch with its base.

If my observations are closer to the truth than Susan's are, then the PSW response to Dr. Medley makes much more sense. As any objective viewer of the PSW DVD recording of the Peggy Johnson/Roy Medley meeting on September 7 will attest (and you can get one from PSW for only $5), Dr. Medley's appearance was a signal failure. He miscalculated badly and only antagonized the 300 or so pastoral/church leaders in attendance. The lines that worked so well for him in the Biennial environment of blindly loyal supporters, only served to alienate the PSW crowd.

Now, instead of rallying the middle to stand with him, the Biennial address becomes Exhibit #1 for the indifference of VF leadership to biblical authority and its willingness to pander to the left. Instead of holding the denomination together, it (and the misadventure of the Ministers Council Senate vote a month later) set up the disastrous PSW meeting and the debacle in Mid-America. And, don't forget Dwight's analysis of West Virginia. A majority of American Baptists are no longer willing to affirm their relationship with the denomination.

If I couldn't get my wife to reaffirm that she wants to remain married to me, I would be running for an attorney. Oh, excuse me, if you have been reading the letters from VF and MMBB, they already are!

History records the last words of George A. Custer before he separated from Reno's command on the day of the battle at the Little Big Horn: "Custer's luck! The biggest Indian Village on the Continent!" Only this time Dr. Medley fills in for Col. Custer.

Dennis E. McFadden

[speaking only for myself and not for anyone, anywhere, anyhow in the PSW]

Hermeneutical Food Fight Turns Ugly

One of my favorite bloggers from the center left of the ABCUSA spectrum is the Rev. Timothy Bonney of Des Moines. With ample experience in the ABC, including service on the General Board, he writes from a unique position of personal knowledge of the denomination. He always combines passion for Baptist freedom with deep pastoral commitment. Tim and I seldom agree. However, his account of the recent regional meeting in Mid-America raises several important points.

The following post from his blog,, describes what he obviously interprets as a naked power grab by the right. Having spoken with some of the principals on the other side of the issue, they interpret the conflict as an assertion of majority rights over the tyranny of an out-of-touch elite regional bureaucracy.

Rev. Bonney's account highlights the level of emotion driving the engine on both sides. For this reason, wise heads have identified at least three Executive Ministers as likely casualties in the coming months. Struggles within regions between forces on the left and the right have reached such a fever pitch that lost jobs by EMs may be the least of the problems.

My assessment as an outsider to Mid America is that this represents a signal example of the problem we are facing in the ABCUSA and why we should consider an amicable separation, blessing each other's ministries, and moving forward with the vision we feel led to embrace from the Lord. The PSW initiative is only the beginning of what is likely to follow if denominational leaders to not begin to listen to the discontent within the congregations.

Mid-ABC Annual Meeting
By Rev. Timothy Bonney
This year's Mid-ABC annual meeting which concluded this past Saturday was the most contentious region annual meeting I've ever attended.

The focus of the meeting was a resolution from the Region Board calling for continuing dialog on issues of human sexuality and homosexuality and asking the region to put on hold the recognition of any gay clergy who have requested recognition from the Mid-ABC through their churches. The original motion acknowledged that there are differences in views on this issue among American Baptists and called for continuing dialogue.

But, instead of the delegates adopting this motion, the document was amended leaving out a call for continued dialog and affirming the 1992 statement of the ABC General Board that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" as well stating that gay clergy would not be recognized.

In my opinion the motion calling for continuing dialogue was the better motion because it recognized that their are different viewpoints on these issues among committed American Baptists. Also, the adoption by the delegates of the 1992 resolution on homosexuality really doesn't solve any of the issues the region is facing. Why?

For the same reason the 1992 resolution didn't solve the issue of homosexuality in 1992 (13 years ago!). ABC churches are completely autonomous. If a General Board or a regional body adopt a theological position on any issue, it only represents the views of those who voted for that statement. It doesn't bind or represent the churches which make up the region. This is because Baptist denominations and regions are advisory bodies only.

So, if a region adopts a view on women in ministry the region still can't make a local church have a woman minister. Nor can the region keep a local church from calling a gay minister or in any way force a church to hire one either. In other words, resolutions create a lot of heat, a lot of arguing, a lot use of Roberts Rules of Order, and not much else.

But, for me the bigger issue was the way the nominating process went during at-large region board selection. The Region Nominating Committee had done a good job of nominating people that represented men and women, different geographic areas of the region, laity and clergy, and conservatives and progressives.

A well orchestrated set of floor nominations that had been created in advance to instead put before the delegates five all male conservative clergy from large rural churches was passed. How did this happen? It happened in a similar way to someone being mad at the Pastor of a local church and calling all the inactive members to come to the business meeting and vote him/her out.

Those who wanted to stack the region board deck made sure that there were nearly 30% more delegates present than usual. It appeared that people who never come to region meetings and participate in region activities showed up in force. One delegate commented something to the effect, "there are a lot of people here I don't know, will you be here next year to support the region?" This looks to be the results of the planning of a large called meeting of conservative pastors which was held recently in the region.

Not only was the at-large region delegate list stacked in an unbalanced way, but several very fine people who have served in region churches for years were not given the opportunity to serve in positions they deserved to serve in because of the conservative grab for power.

Now, for the first time, region board members were elected (and rejected) based on whether they were conservatives or not. A call from the floor to see if at least one woman could be placed in nomination was nearly shouted down.

So, what about city churches, women, and moderate and progressive Baptists? What about at least two of the nominated delegates who came from churches that give generously to ABC Missions? We all got left out.

Whatever your view on issues facing the ABC, this is no way to do mission and ministry together!

On his final point, Rev. Bonney and I agree. But, given the way in which the conflict is framed by participants on both left and right, is there any reasonable expectation for resolution? Both sides firmly believe that they speak for the correct view of Baptist tradition and biblical authority. Both sets of partisans are pained by a feeling of deep alienation, each side seeing themselves as wronged. In this recent encounter, the left felt bulldozed by the right. During the months leading up to the meeting, the right felt disenfranchised by a leadership siding with those on the left.

Rather than drag the denomination through the mud and suffer periodic reports in the secular press of our inability to get along, have we not reached the point where a separation would strengthen both groups?

[This blog presents the ideas and opinions of the blogger only. It does not speak for or represent any person, power, or position within the PSW]

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Price of a Baptist Conscience

The Price of a Baptist Conscience

By Dennis E. McFadden

Several years ago an ABCUSA General Secretary responded to my challenge regarding a proposed national endorsement of a gay chaplain by putting an angry finger in my face and taunting me: “You mean that Southern California pastors don’t care about their M&M [now MMBB]? I responded by saying that at last we had discovered the price of a Baptist conscience: the M&M pension.

Today I received a letter from Dr. Sumner Grant, Executive Director of the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board of the ABCUSA, reminding me that while the times have changed dramatically since the mid 1990s, some things remain distressingly the same. Repeating the earlier language about being “saddened” by the proposed withdrawal of the PSW from the ABCUSA, Sumner explained that “We provide only contractual benefits to eligible non-ABCUSA groups who wish to become affiliate members of MMBB’s plans. We want to be sure that our members and employers understand the different services we are chartered to provide ABCUSA and eligible non-ABCUSA organizations.”

Until now there had been some questions among PSW pastors how the proposed withdrawal from the ABCUSA would impact their relationship with MMBB. Dr. Grant’s letter appears to have settled the matter. “MMBB members of a church that withdraws from the ABC will become affiliate members and employees present and future will be eligible for contractual benefits, but not for non-contractual benefits.”

Practically speaking, this means that MMBB members of congregations withdrawing from the ABCUSA will lose emergency assistance to members, career counseling support, premium assistance, Thank You checks, educational grants for children if a member dies or becomes disabled before retirement, regular grant in retirement, if eligible, and an annual visit in retirement for career members. Also the 1% of premium that is directed to member assistance will be “directed to administrative expense.”

As a member of MMBB for nearly 30 years with a ninth grader still at home, these clarifications sound chilling. I still remember pastoring a congregation where one year our Retired Ministers and Missionaries Offering exceeded $27,000. That kind of gift brought Sumner out to California to thank me personally for my “faithfulness to the cause.” Then there was my bringing our nearly 200 employees at Atherton Baptist Homes into MMBB a few years back. I guess Dr. Grant is “saddened” about all of that too. The General Secretary had it right; we have discovered the price of a Baptist pastor’s conscience.

[This blog presents the ideas and opinions of the blogger only. It does not speak for or represent any person, power, or position within the PSW]

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fuller Scholar Shows Us How to Live with Cancer Full of Grace and Faithfulness

Dr. David Scholer was one of the parishioners when I was the preaching interim at FBC Pasadena for 15 months a few years ago. During that time he was often absent due to his treatments and the fatigue they brought. But his courage and Christian example of grace under incredible pressure and in the midst of unimaginable suffering was just as evident then as it is now. David's wife, Jeannette, has been positively heroic in her caregiving for him. If you are ever stricken with cancer, you could only pray for a spouse as devoted as Jeannette. She has not only helped sustain him physically with her servant-hearted ministrations, she has been a sustaining spiritual encouragement to him as well.

Thanks to Rev. Charles Svendsen for tipping me off to the article, to Dr. Glenn Layne for the picture, and thanks to the L.A. Times for printing this wonderful piece!

The Rev. David Scholer copes with constant pain, but he still teaches the New Testament and even draws lessons from his disease in lectures.

By K. Connie Kang, Times Staff Writer

The Rev. David M. Scholer, a prominent New Testament scholar at Fuller Theological Seminary, has lived with constant pain and side effects from the treatment since he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer 3 1/2 years ago.

The cancer is incurable, he says, and has spread to both lungs.

"I have outlived some of the predictions already. And I have no idea how much more life I have," Scholer, 67, an ordained Baptist minister, told the First Baptist Church of Pasadena congregation during a recent sermon.

Living with incurable cancer is like having "a terrorist bomb strapped on your back," said Scholer, who with his wife, Jeannette, is a member of the church. "You don't know when it's going to go off."

Despite the illness and fatigue, Scholer continues to teach and supervise the PhD program and its 155 candidates at the Pasadena seminary's Center for Advanced Theological Studies, where he has been associate dean since 1997.

The way he is continuing with his duties has made Scholer a role model for living with an incurable disease, many people at the seminary say.

Students, faculty and members of congregations where he speaks are deeply moved to see how he uses his suffering to minister to others.

At the beginning of every course, Scholer tells his students about his condition so they're not surprised. In his teaching, however, he mostly sticks to the subject: the New Testament.

"The kind of [theological] knowledge we have doesn't give us any special status," he told seminarians in his class. "But there is a special responsibility we have to share it."

His voice is hoarse, a side effect of the many medications he takes. And he lectures while seated, because it tires him to stand.

Until cancer struck, Scholer traveled the world to speak at seminaries, universities and conferences. Only a few months before his diagnosis, he taught a three-week course on the Book of Romans at Moscow Theological Seminary, the only Baptist seminary in Russia.

Now his destinations are mostly local churches, where he teaches from the New Testament and shares his journey of living with cancer. His next sermon, "Prisoners of Hope: Living With Cancer," is scheduled for Nov. 13 at First Baptist Church of Los Angeles in Wilshire Center/Koreatown.

When you have cancer, Scholer said, it is important to know how you live with the disease — in relationship to yourself, to your family and friends and to God."

Cancer doesn't change everything, but it does give everything a new perspective," he said in his sermon at the Pasadena church."

One of the greatest lessons I've learned is the value of memory and recollection," said Scholer, a large man with an enthusiastic manner.

"I revel every day in remembering all the good things of my life — all the wonderful things I have been given: my family, my friends," he said. "I can't travel much anymore, so I think of all the places I've been. The joys and achievements of the past don't mean I live in the past, but I do celebrate with gratitude what has been."

Jerry Ransom Wilkerson, a former Air Force captain who took Scholer's New Testament course last year, described the teacher as "a walking testimony of his faith."

"Every day I sat there and I was amazed," said Wilkerson, who is working on a master's degree in divinity in preparation for the ministry.

"On the first day of the class, he said: 'I have an incurable disease.' He wasn't mincing words. He had accepted it."

A month ago, when Wilkerson was considering canceling a preaching engagement in Philadelphia because he was ill, he thought of his professor.

"I may have been sick, but Dr. Scholer is ill all the time," he said. "He doesn't let that sickness stop him from doing what God has called him to do." Wilkerson kept the appointment.

Jill Williams, who will complete her master's degree in divinity in June, says she was in Scholer's class the quarter he learned his cancer had returned.

"Ironically, I do not remember a marked difference in his teaching before and after the diagnosis," she said. "He consistently taught with joy, theological conviction and passion throughout the quarter."

In a recent interview in his book-lined office, Scholer described his wife of 45 years as "the best caregiver in the world." (They were classmates at Wheaton College in Illinois, and she is director of academic programs at Fuller's School of Theology.)

Scholer talked about some of his daily challenges beyond the rounds of medical appointments. Fatigue means sleeping nine to 10 hours a night, and napping too. His fingers and toes tingle constantly. His colostomy bag causes a lot of difficulties.

"Every morning, when I get out of bed, I have to confess, one of my first thoughts is: I wish I could have just one more normal day," he said.

"Within three minutes, I am painfully aware of my limitations. Within five minutes, I can predict how the day is going to go. And the battle is — to put it frankly — the will to keep going. To say each day, 'I want to live. I want to enjoy today. I want to push forward with everything I am able to muster.'"

So, he said, you learn the limits of what you can do.

The theologian, a Minnesota native who received his doctorate at Harvard Divinity School, was ordained in the American Baptist Church USA in 1966 and worked as a pastor. After teaching at three other seminaries around the country, he came to Fuller in 1994.

Scholer is an authority on Gnosticism and has written books dealing with the ancient religious movement that stressed salvation by knowledge and found a home in early Christianity. He has also written books on New Testament interpretation and on the importance of having women in ministry.

His course "Women, the Bible and the Church" has been the most popular elective at Fuller.

He collects Bibles. In his home library is a personal collection of 400, including rare English translations.

As he continues with teaching and research, Scholer said, he is experiencing the meaning of living one day at a time.

"Nobody who went to the World Trade Center on 9/11 said, 'Oh, I am going to die there today,' " he said.

When he thinks about his last day, he sometimes wants just his wife and their two adult daughters at his bedside.

But at other moments, he thinks of a hundred people he would want there.

In life's ups and downs, what's important to realize is that God's ways are well "above our ways," he said. "Maturity in faith is the ability to accept mystery and ambiguity."

His message is this: "I really do trust in God. I believe in God's comfort and love. I believe that God is the giver of life, and that means to affirm this life, as well as to have faith in the life to come. God has given me life. I feel I have a calling in life."

But, for the terminally ill, a time comes when the will to live doesn't work anymore, he said.

"So, as an incurable-cancer patient, I give myself to God," Scholer said. "My life is in God's hands."


Saturday, October 22, 2005

PCUSA Renewal Groups Reject Biblical Compromises on Homosexuality

In a prior blog, His Barking Dog reported and responded to the Presbyterian Task Force report on "peace, unity, and purity" and some of the observations made about it by American Baptist Dwight Stinnett. Faced with very similar issues regarding human sexuality to those being debated in the ABCUSA, a denominational task force was commissioned by the PCUSA to chart a course for dealing with the problems in their fellowship.

The final product of their work acknowledged the pain being experienced by Presbyterians on the left, the middle, and the right. It confessed that "all of us came to see that the Presbyterian Church (USA), in its current factionalized state that we have all created together by our mutual stereotyping and misuse of power, fails to offer a suffering world a sign of peace, unity, and purity that is God's gift to us in Jesus Christ."

Yet, in the final analysis, agreement eluded the conferees. They acknowledged that disagreements continue to focus on what constitutes faithful pastoral application of scriptural teaching or on which passages of Scripture are relevant to a particular question.

In other words, after a great deal of diligent study, prayer, and due consideration, the Presbyterian task force was unable to move beyond the impasse.
Here is part of the response to that conclusion from the Presbyterian Coalition, a renewal group within the PCUSA. Their reactions to denominational waffling bear consideration by those of us in the ABCUSA.

The Report will not promote the purity of the church

For the past quarter century, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has repeatedly expressed its conviction regarding God's will in matters of sexual morality. The Report subverts these core sexual standards of behavior that are grounded in Scripture by substituting sincerely expressed personal opinions for rigorous biblical exegesis that has been confirmed by centuries of church tradition.

The Report accepts conflicting interpretations of Scripture without doing the hard work of helping the church to assess the respective merits of these interpretations. The Report proposes compromising the one Word of God with "words," by replacing the witness of Scripture with the product of dialogue. By replacing the authority of Scripture with a consensus-building process, the Report separates the church from its only real source of purity, Jesus Christ. The Lord of the church prays for our purity, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17).

These observations lead us to conclude that the Task Force Report does not provide what the church needs at this critical juncture in our life together. The Report will not promote the peace, unity, and purity for which the Savior prays, for which we hope, and to which we are committed.

Because we cannot commend the whole Report to the church, our renewal organizations will offer resources to assist the church in discerning a better way to seek its peace, unity, and purity.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Those of us in the American Baptist Evangelicals camp will find a large measure of agreement with our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in their renewal movement. Peace, unity, and purity cannot be reached in a denomination where biblical authority has become the object of hermeneutical food fights. Replacing the Word of God with the words of dialogue will never satisfy those seeking a true peace, unity, and purity under the authority of God's Word.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Great Rivers Executive Minister and an "Abiding Sense of Loss"

Great Rivers Executive Minister, Dwight Stinnett, a blogger who attempts to speak for American Baptists in the "middle," and who announces that he is unaffiliated "with any advocacy group," posted an interesting blog today. He dealt with a report received by the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA from its Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. The Presbyterian group entitled their effort simply "Peace Unity Purity." Readers of His Barking Dog can download the full report at .

Quoting the Presbyterians, Dr. Stinnett writes,

"While the Task Force worked hard and honestly, they did not overcome our differences and reach agreement on all the issues.They did note that the most serious disagreements were not over biblical interpretation per se, but focus on what constitutes faithful pastoral application of scriptural teaching or on which passages of Scripture are relevant to a particular question."

His final paragraphs are worth citing in full:

"Perhaps most challenging for us of Baptist persuasion is the conclusion: Truth, holiness, and righteousness matter as pathways to discipleship, in both the life of the church as a body and in the lives of its members. Ultimately, the church cannot simply agree to disagree on important matters of faith and practice. Church polity must provide ways for serious disagreements to be resolved. But resolution by merely technical or legal means will not endure because it does not address the conflict of convictions that gave rise to the disagreements in the first place. Only a resolution with theological integrity can be sustained.

Elsewhere they speak of a church both preoccupied with and weary of conflict. That certainly rings true for me in ABCUSA. While some are openly encouraged by certain departures or disengagements, and chastise those who leave "in a huff," I suspect many more are leaving and disengaging because of fatigue and discouragement. They are not angry or self-righteous; they are in great pain and have an abiding sense of loss."

Well said, Dr. Stinnett. Yesterday I met with a group of ABC pastors in the PSW. When the question arose as to how one of the leaders of the "leave now" faction "felt" about the impending breakup of the ABCUSA, he said simply and quietly: "I feel loss and an immense sense of sadness." In one of my communications with a well placed ABC blogger on the left, he wrote to me yesterday: "I am coming to agree with you that it may be time to bless each other's ministries and move on."

The direction being taken by Dr. Medley and the architects of "Baptists are autonomous so we cannot enforcece any boundaries" will likely lead to the division of organizations, if not full fellowship, among the people called American Baptists. The grand experiment in Baptist life which survived schisms in the past over justice issues (i.e., slavery) and creeds (i.e., 1940s) totters precariously an the edge of a new precipice. The most ethnically diverse and inclusive Protestant body in the United States, the one with arguably the proudest tradition of "ahead of the curve missiology," stands ready to jump off the cliff because it does not know how to say the words, "The Bible says," and mean it.

Some of us used to be angry and conflicted. Now we are just tired and profoundly sad.

[These opinions represent only the ideas of the blogger and do not purport to speak for any person, position, or power within the PSW]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What Does the West Virginia Vote Mean? A News Analysis

By "Pastor Allan"

Long two days...

Had two votes today:
* the first, as proposed by the BBT (Baptists for Biblical Truth) failed.
* the second, proposed by an ABC supporting church to reaffirm our relationship with ABC-USA also failed but by a wider margin.

For the record, I realize that Dr. Carrico is trying to say the right things, but he is also trying to do the right things. There is a working task force that will report on our relationship with ABC at our meeting next year. The proposed path will no doubt be determined by the events of the General Board next month and to follow.

There are a few churches that will always be ABC-USA no matter what happens, but I would say that the WVBC is united in everything but practice. It was a very Spirit-filled meeting. Those on opposite sides were embracing after the vote. But be sure that few are happy with the current direction of ABC-USA.

News Analysis - Dennis E. McFadden

What do we make of the actions coming out of West Virginia?

For some time the region has been objectifying the West Virginia Baptists for Biblical Truth as an unrepresentative group. My contacts in WV tell me that the regional leadership considers them outside the mainstream theologically, temperamentally prickly and contrarian, and financially insignificant to the mission of the region. During the tenure of their movement, they have taken up positions oppositional to that of the regional leadership, including the new Executive Minister, Dr. David L. Carrico. Appearing to stand against the recently installed Executive during his honeymoon, when most people would want to give him the benefit of the doubt, doomed their chances of winning the vote in the annual gathering. This is unfortunate since, as Glenn Layne has suggested in his blog (, Jay Wolfe has been a stalwart for orthodoxy and a leader among West Virginians.

Valley Forge will misread the election returns, however, if they draw even faint comfort from the decision by the churches. For, as Pastor Allan has indicated, the delegates turned down an attempt to affirm relationship with the ABCUSA by an even more decisive measure. Indeed, the West Virginia churches have embarked upon an examination of their relationship with Valley Forge. If they do not want to take up arms against their new leader, Dr. Carrico, and refuse to identify with those widely perceived (rightly or wrongly) to hail from the hard right end of the spectrum, they have even less attraction for Valley Forge. This represents a victory for the evangelical center of the ABCUSA. While it may be unfortunate that circumstances have placed the WVBBT in a position appearing too far right for the comfort of the majority, Valley Forge's posture elicits even more discomfort and disagreement.

Following on the heels of the PSW initiative and the prospects for likely rejection of the IN/KY proposal coming before the General Board of the ABCUSA in Novemeber, further distancing from Valley Forge appears certain within West Virginia churches. Even if parliamentary moves are made to lock the IN/KY motion up in a protracted period of reconciliation of competing proposals, evangelicals in West Virginia and elsewhere will likely interpret this as a defeat for biblical authority and orthodoxy within the ABC. As Pastor Allan put it in a characteristically understated West Virginia way, "But be sure that few are happy with the current direction of ABC-USA."

It wouold be an error for ABE members reading this blog to interpret the WV actions as a defeat for orthodoxy and biblical authority. We already knew from the previously published recommendations of the West Virginia board that they were proposing a year long process of reviewing their relationship with ABCUSA. Although PSW acted drammatically in their initiation of withdrawal, their process will stretch over the better part of a year as well. Constitutional fine points seldom comport well with bold and decisive "immediate" action.

[This blog represents the opinions of the author only. It does not pretend to speak for any person, position, or power within the ABCPSW]

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

What Are You Expecting? Birthing a New Baptist Organization

by Dr. John Kaiser

Reprinted from American Baptist Evangelicals' "An eConnections Update: Lombard and Beyond"

The hour was 3:00 a.m. November 23, 1982, and I was sleeping deeply after preparing lecture notes until well after midnight. The next morning would be an open house at the Bible college where I taught, so I wanted to be at my best.

“John!” exclaimed my otherwise thoughtful and patient wife, “I think my water just broke. We have to get moving NOW.” My firstborn had decided to show up three weeks early and has had a mind of his own ever since. There was no stopping him or even slowing him down. The only question at that point was whether the responsible grownups involved would make sure that he got off to a healthy start. There’s something about new life that captures our imagination and compels us to reorder our plans. It is not always convenient, pain-free or cheap. But we know that the result is worthy of the labor. How else could siblings be explained? (You can fool me once ....)

A new organization for Baptist congregations of evangelical conviction is being birthed, and at this point there is no stopping it. There was an early contraction in 1992 when the ABC was barely capable of declaring homosexual conduct “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Another contraction came in 1996 when the ABCW removed four congregations for proudly promoting that conduct, and the ABC responded with measured accommodation toward both sides. At the 2003 Biennial, labor was induced by divergent speakers, each of whom provoked separate constituencies to walk out, and AWAB demonstrated within the auditorium to celebrate ten years of advocating for the gay rights agenda within the ABC.

Contractions came faster in 2004 as National Ministries and the Office of General Secretary failed to support the largely evangelical Board of International Missions at a critical juncture, and an outside consultant warned Valley Forge about the imminent consequences of glossing over moral issues.

The water finally broke this year, 2005: Calls to implement the 1992 policy were deftly sidelined by Valley Forge at the Biennial in Denver, with the result that disenfranchised pastors and executives may have spent more time in side meetings than official sessions. PSW subsequently initiated withdrawal from (not breaking of) covenant with Valley Forge. Scores of West Virginia churches are pressing their region to follow suit. Ten evangelical Executive Ministers have pledged mutual support and relationship to each other (eight who gathered at Parchment Valley plus two others who had pledged their support prior). Most significantly, the Summons to Lead gathering of 350 leaders at Northern Seminary in September was virtually unanimous in its call to see a new organization formed for Baptist congregations holding to traditional biblical morality and authority, regardless of their status with the ABC.

While there is no question that a baby is on the way, there is a big question about what she is going to be when she grows up. If the new organization were to be dominated by protest against the failures of Valley Forge, it would have an essentially negative sense of mission. In other words, it would be defined primarily by what it is against. While it is good to be against everything “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and sometimes good to form protest organizations, the mission of the church is distinctly positive. Jesus first words to his disciples were, “Come follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men.” His last words to them were a commencement address at the completion of this training program: “Go, make disciples of all nations.”

Think of what a new national network of congregations and like-minded mission organizations can accomplish in evangelism if it does the following:
· Puts more resources into making more disciples than into anything else
· Helps healthy growing congregations to reproduce others
· Resources healthy congregations that are already growing and reproducing
· Transforms other congregations that are not growing and reproducing
· Takes an unequivocal stand on biblical orthodoxy and morality
· Majors on the major issues and minors on the minor ones
· Leaves old political battles behind to redirect energy into evangelism
How often do we get a chance to be part of new life? My wife and I have two children who are now in their early twenties. Each of them is precious to us and was a privilege to help shape in early formative years.

How often do you get a chance to be part of a new movement of congregations on a national scale? And how often do you get to be in at the beginning to help shape it? And how accountable would you be to God for making the most of that opportunity to increase the population of heaven?

One thing that makes church planting so much fun is the opportunity to start painting on a blank canvas. No blobs, cracks, or faded strokes to distract you from designing and executing a new ministry masterpiece. It’s a fresh beginning, a chance to revisit the bedrock truths of God’s Word and build on them a solid, functional and attractive superstructure. I had the privilege of planting two successful churches and leading them to grow. For the last five or six years I have had the privilege of serving as a consultant and church planting director in a region so effective in mission that denominational groups from all over the English-speaking world come every year to the ABCW to learn what we are doing.

Now I hope to see this new national organization springing forth from the Summons to Lead at Northern Seminary receive the right DNA and grow to maturity as a fellowship of Baptist congregations which we will be proud to say is making more new disciples together than we could ever do by ourselves. I don’t know how much the new baby will weigh at birth, maybe 300 congregations, maybe many times that figure, but wherever it begins, I pray and expect it to grow, to be fruitful and to multiply. The water has broken. We have to get moving NOW!

Editorial note: Dr. Kaiser captures the mood of the Summit to Lead conferees with his well-spoken overview of how we got where we are today. Avoiding the negative vision and affirming a positive sense of mission cannot be emphasized strongly enough.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Extraordinary American Baptist Generosity Shown in Hurricane Relief Funding and Volunteers

American Baptist News Service (Valley Forge, Pa. 10/17/05)--

Gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) following hurricanes Katrina and Rita topped $1.85 million as of Sept. 30, with more funds on the way from churches and regions. Ken George, National Ministries’ national coordinator for Intercultural Ministries, Direct Human Services, says this figure marks a quick, generous response that outpaces any previous contributions to disaster relief in both size and timing.

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of American Baptists, George reports several disbursements, now totaling $163,500.

George’s office just released $50,000 in OGHS-designated funds to Church World Service (CWS), earmarked for relocating hurricane survivors through CWS’s Immigration and Refugee program in collaboration with partner denominations.

American Baptist Churches of the West (ABCW) received $40,000, in addition to a previous grant of $20,000, in designated OGHS funds to assist survivors relocating to California. African American church members there lost many relatives, but funding enables churches across ethnicities — Asian, Hispanic and Euro-American — to continue helping families with food, housing and other material support. Several churches have taken in families with a one-year commitment to provide rent and necessities.

In other major efforts, one region sought to multiply its help to Katrina survivors by adopting an entire town. American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky visited the disaster area and adopted Pass Christian, Miss., located 20 miles west of Biloxi on the Gulf Coast, with a population of 7,500. Indiana and Kentucky region volunteers coordinate a distribution center in the town, sorting truckloads of food and sundries. Since the end of September work teams arrive weekly in Pass Christian for debris cleanup, building repairs and construction.

Volunteers traveling to Wiggins, Miss., assisted with a month-long debris cleanup, coordinated through the American Baptist Men’s disaster relief ministry, along with 100 other relief agencies. An impoverished area with high unemployment, Wiggins was nearly in the eye of the storm’s path. As many as 75 American Baptist men from a dozen regions cleared downed trees from yards and blocked driveways for people lacking resources for the work. Within one month, 397 volunteers served 235 clients, working 16,404 total hours. More groups are expected later in the year and into 2006.

Previously, funding went to CWS for recovery kits, to a church in Louisiana for its meal program and to ABCW for churches adopting families. Two grants went through American Baptist Churches of the South, one to a church in Atlanta, Ga., ministering to survivors and the other to a church in Mobile, Ala., that was flooded and did not have insurance coverage for contents. Companis, a social services ministry of First Baptist Seattle, Wash., received funding to support a volunteer it sent to the Greater Houston area. The volunteer directs Neighbor to Neighbor, a new program of Interfaith Ministries that matches hurricane survivors with churches or individuals offering housing.

American Baptists wishing to support the continuing hurricane relief and recovery efforts can do so through their church’s monthly report of mission support, designating contributions “OGHS–Hurricane Katrina/Rita.” For online contributions visit and click on “Give Now.”

Even in the midst of controversy, good things happen through Christian bodies, including the ABCUSA. Criticism of attacks on biblical authority, heresy, and bullying tactics should not cause us to overlook and appreciate the many good works done "in the name of Jesus."

Two Bishops Celebrate Pro-Homosexuality "Reconciling" Cause in Washington, DC (IRD report)

John Lomperis

After briefly praying to “God our Mother and Father,” Bishop Susan Morrison of Albany declared of homosexual ordination within United Methodism: “It will happen, and it won’t be soon enough.”

Morrison was at Foundry United Methodist Church on October 5 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of that DC congregation’s joining the pro-homosexuality “Reconciling” movement. She was joined by Bishop John Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, Bishop Susan Morrison claims homosexual ordination in the United Methodist Church "will happen, and it won’t be soon enough." (Photo Courtesy National Cathedral.)

Morrison noted that next year will mark the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in the predecessor bodies of the United Methodist Church—“an embarrassingly short time ago,” she said. The Albany bishop then predicted that “the same will be said at the 50th anniversary of full clergy rights” for practicing homosexuals within the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church requires its clergy to be celibate if single or monogamous if married. Practicing homosexuals may not be ordained—a policy against which the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) actively campaigns.

Foundry United Methodist Church became famous during the 1990s because of the attendance of President and Mrs. Clinton. Its administrative board voted by a narrow margin to become “Reconciling” at the urging of its then-pastor, Dr. J. Philip Wogaman, a prominent United Methodist ethicist and now acting president of Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Bishop Schol told the audience at Foundry that he was very “proud of the Reconciling congregations” in his annual conference. In introducing Morrison, he praised her for the “prophetic voice” with which she joined 14 other bishops at the 1996 General Conference to declare their strong opposition to traditional Christian and United Methodist teaching on marriage and sexual ethics. Noting that Morrison had gotten a lot of negative reaction for that declaration, Schol indicated that as a new bishop he had started to experience similar opposition.

Both Schol and Morrison participated at the recent “Hearts on Fire” convocation organized by RMN at Lake Junaluska, NC.

In her remarks, Morrison recalled two pastors in her conference writing a controversial book called Wisdom’s Feast: Sophia in Study and Celebration. Morrison explained that Sophia is the Greek word for “wisdom” used to invoke feminine attributes of God. When a complaint was filed against the authors, Morrison responded by refusing to allow the disciplinary complaint process against the authors to continue.

Morrison incredulously told her Foundry audience that a complaint was then filed against her for failing to uphold the church’s teachings. Although the complaint against her did not result in disciplinary action, Morrison lamented that the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference passed a resolution criticizing her handling of the situation. Her “life was threatened more than once,” she said.

Morrison also recalled how “all hell broke loose” when she attended the “wonderful” Re-Imagining women’s conference in 1993. Re-Imagining featured the worship of Sophia and other feminine deities along with the celebration of homosexuality and the denial of traditional Christian teachings about Christ’s atonement.

Notwithstanding the “relentless and ruthless” criticisms of her, Morrison insisted that Re-Imagining “was one of the greatest events I ever went to.” Despite all of her work as a “pioneer” within United Methodism, Morrison regretted that “parochialism” and “intolerance” still persist within the church.

As we move toward next May's release of Ron Howard's film version of The Da Vinci Code, it should not surprise us that the movement toward homosexual ordination often makes common cause with radical revisionist views of Jesus. Ideas of the "divine feminine," conspiracy theories promoting notions of ecclesiastical suppression of "lost gospels," and revisionist theories of the role of Mary Magdalene have been trumpeted by radical scholars in elite universities (e.g., Helmut Koester and the ubiquitous and often interviewed Elaine Pagels are examples).

The pastiche of heresies masquerading as "the latest scholarship," have begun to filter into the consciousness of the general population via books such as Dan Brown's bestseller.

In debates within the ABCUSA, this nexus has not been pronounced, with proponents of homosexual ordination continuing to hold basically orthodox Christological views. However, as a cultural trend, the connections are clear and becoming more overt as the revisionists popularize their ideology through mass media outlets.

[The ideas contained in this blog represent opinions and analysis solely my own of cultural trends and do not represent any official body, person, or position]

Friday, October 14, 2005

What is the Logic of the Hardball Tactics by ABCUSA?

What is the logic of Valley Forge hardball against the PSW?

The analogy to a local church facing dissenters might be informative.

First, if a group of people had announced their intention to leave a church, the pastor and deacons would be remiss if they facilitated ease of access to the rest of the congregation. Who wants to help critics spread dissension throughout the body? The spiritual responsibility of leaders includes protecting the flock from unnecessary conflict and divisiveness.

Second, if one of those pulling away was a part-time employee of the church, would the pastor and board not want to move rapidly to remove such a disloyal member from the employment of the congregation?

Third, the reaction to disinvite the General Board members from coming to the fall GB meeting reminds me of a pastor I know who asked a deacon threatening to leave the church to recuse himself from participation and votes on the church board until he would be willing to commit to remain.

So, judged from an ecclesial model, it would seem that Valley Forge leaders are behaving in a manner quite normal and consistent with how most pastors would respond to local congregational crises.

So why do PSW people complain about the injustice and unfairness of actions which, upon a cursory examination, appear to be the “right pastoral thing to do”?

First, while the local church analogy has some bearing, it also overlooks some important factors. The PSW board has NOT voted to withdraw from the ABCUSA Covenant of Relationships. It has voted to initiate a process of withdrawal. While this may seem like a technical point, it is quite significant. If the PSW board continues to believe this is the correct course as of their December meeting, the By Laws mandate a three month delay before a business meeting of the churches may consider the question. In the meantime, PSW IS a covenanting partner with the ABCUSA with all of the rights to representation and participation implied therein.

Second, the punitive actions contemplated (and in some cases apparently communicated) to the Native American churches represent an unconscionable attack upon the least and the last among us. Several of these pastoral leaders receiving salary support report not having gotten even a cost of living adjustment in years! One of them stood at the PSW Annual Meeting to say ruefully that he doubted if the NM personnel went without their raises during the same period. We could hope that ABCUSA and ABCPSW representatives would behave themselves in the highest ethical manner, even in the middle of this conflict. Much as parents in a divorce often strive to protect the children from any unnecessary pain occasioned by the break-up, so one would expect all parties to this dispute to act like Christians. That would include not using the poor as pawns in the conflict.

Finally, unlike the local church analogy, the Covenant of Relationships explicitly includes language permitting any covenant partner to withdraw from the covenant. While PSW’s actions may not be welcome by Valley Forge, they correspond to the terms of the agreement binding the ABC together and conform to often expressed emphases upon voluntary association and congregational autonomy.

Another analogy frequently used is that of a divorce. Rev. Timothy Bonney, a blogger extraordinaire who is well connected in ABCUSA circles observes:

Frankly, I don't understand what Dr. Salico and the region are complaining about. If a man started divorce proceedings against his wife and then complained to his friends that she was no longer fixing him dinner and cleaning the house they'd likely say, "well what do you expect her to do?"

Timothy makes a very good point. Some PSW people act surprised that Valley Forge has reacted negatively to the PSW board's vote. Certainly no one should expect the "jilted" spouse to respond positively to the announcement of an impending and unwanted divorce. However, this analogy proves too much. For even in the case of a bitter divorce, the angry spouse has no right to cancel the children's health insurance or disenroll the kids from school. These, and many other matters, are points to be negotiated.

During the difficult interim period all parties need to exercise the best in courtesy and civility. Indeed, rules of civility are intended exactly for these kinds of circumstances when our normal emotions would incline us to become bitter, punitive, and play games of tit-for-tat. Surely we can expect more from Christ's servants on both sides.

[These observations are unofficial and unauthorized. They are the sole responsibility of the blogger and are not to be construed as representing any body or entity within the PSW]