Thursday, October 27, 2005

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]

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