Tuesday, October 04, 2005

News from the "Keeper of the Covenants"


I know the deep division and am aware of the many opinions expressed by a number of voices. Because of this I need to speak clearly about our positions around the issue of homosexuality. Here are five affirmations from our General Board for which I am spokesperson and to which I am accountable:

1. Our Family Life Policy Statement (1984) says, "We affirm that God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long, one-flesh union of a man and a woman."

2. A General Board resolution (1992) says, "We affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

3. A General Board resolution (1993) calls for continuing dialogue on human sexuality.

4. As Baptists we affirm the long-held insistence on local church autonomy and priesthood of believers. The denomination submits to churches and individuals in matters of doctrinal determination. This foundation has been in place for 98 years. (Bylaws of Northern Baptist Convention, 1907)

5. The principle of voluntary association in mission calls us together to accomplish Kingdom tasks that are better done together than apart. It declares that we need each other if we are to accomplish God’s purposes for us. (Autonomy and Interdependence Within the American Baptist Denomination: A Declaration, 1982)
As General Secretary, I abide by the policies and resolutions of the General Board, and encourage the National Boards and the Regions to honor those decisions. I will continue to be faithful in identifying the positions the General Board has taken on issues of our day.

In these changing times, we can expect to go through changes in the denomination. For that reason I have sought and received the input of American Baptists in gatherings such as Seek It!, the Biennial, prayer meetings in the regions and the Mission and Ministry Consultations. With God’s direction, here is how I intend to lead us forward.

1. We are fully committed to the freedom, autonomy and primacy of the local church. It is the fundamental and essential unit of God’s mission in the world.

2. American Baptists are not going to stop being Baptists. We will move forward with our current vision, mission, policies and resolutions. We recognize that we will always have dissenters among us. We will engage in ongoing dialogue on the issues on which we disagree, but we will be clear about our policies. We will encourage local churches and regions to go on record with their dissent and passionately forge ahead with our mission and ministry.

3. There is nothing sacred about our organizational structure. We will not engage in a "feeding frenzy" over power or resources. We will continue to adapt as required by missional priorities.

4. I believe that as General Secretary I am the "keeper" of the covenants. My role is to serve as the "head of communion" for our American Baptist family in the ecumenical community. I am not a presiding bishop; I am the denominational pastor. My task is to lift up the mission and vision of the family and to oversee each partner’s participation in moving the mission toward the vision.


One of the key issues relates to what the word "encourage" means. Dr. Medley affirms that he personally abides by the policies and resolutions of the ABCUSA and "encourages" National Boards and Regions to "honor" them as well. But he also says he "encourages" local churches and regions to go on record with their dissent from ABCUSA policy statements and resolutions. This, Medley believes, expresses our identity as "being Baptists."

When the General Secretary "encourages" regions and churches to dissent and that dissent involves sending advocates of positions the ABCUSA has corporately and democratically declared "incompatible with Christian teaching" to fill important board and committee slots, we have a polity anomaly. On the one hand, we have spoken (as well as our free church tradition will allow) that something is not only embarrassing or ill-advised, but actually incompatible with Christianity. On the other hand, we cherish the tradition of ruggled individuality and congregational autonomy.

Dr. Medley's solution to the dilemma is to proclaim that he is not a "presiding bishop," merely a "denominational pastor." Interesting choice of words. In the New Testament, one of the chief roles of the "pastor" or "shepherd" is to protect the flock from all manner of dangers. Jesus, himself, accepts the designation of "shepherd" when he says,

"Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me" (John 10:8-14).

If Dr. Medley truly wants to be a pastor to this denomination, perhaps he would be advised to see to it that the wolves of heterodoxy and secularism do not prey upon the flock entrusted to his charge.

Dennis E. McFadden

[Excerted from a pastoral letter from Dr. A. Roy Medley to American Baptists dated 10/3/05; taken from the ABCUSA web site. The personal comments and observations are mine alone and do not represent any official or entity within the PSW.]

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