Tuesday, October 25, 2005

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, http://tbonney.squarespace.com/home/, 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]


Tom said...

If whatBonney says is true, then it is a waste of time to ever offer a resolution of any kind. They are about as useful as the proclamation of National Hangnail Awareness Day. The Central Region recognized as much back in the 90's but it took a resolution to end all resolutions. The height of irony. Loved it.

revdrron said...

I noticed that Mr Bonney has turned his web-site comments button off. But? But?