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.]

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