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]