Friday, October 14, 2005

What is the Logic of the Hardball Tactics by ABCUSA?

What is the logic of Valley Forge hardball against the PSW?

The analogy to a local church facing dissenters might be informative.

First, if a group of people had announced their intention to leave a church, the pastor and deacons would be remiss if they facilitated ease of access to the rest of the congregation. Who wants to help critics spread dissension throughout the body? The spiritual responsibility of leaders includes protecting the flock from unnecessary conflict and divisiveness.

Second, if one of those pulling away was a part-time employee of the church, would the pastor and board not want to move rapidly to remove such a disloyal member from the employment of the congregation?

Third, the reaction to disinvite the General Board members from coming to the fall GB meeting reminds me of a pastor I know who asked a deacon threatening to leave the church to recuse himself from participation and votes on the church board until he would be willing to commit to remain.

So, judged from an ecclesial model, it would seem that Valley Forge leaders are behaving in a manner quite normal and consistent with how most pastors would respond to local congregational crises.

So why do PSW people complain about the injustice and unfairness of actions which, upon a cursory examination, appear to be the “right pastoral thing to do”?

First, while the local church analogy has some bearing, it also overlooks some important factors. The PSW board has NOT voted to withdraw from the ABCUSA Covenant of Relationships. It has voted to initiate a process of withdrawal. While this may seem like a technical point, it is quite significant. If the PSW board continues to believe this is the correct course as of their December meeting, the By Laws mandate a three month delay before a business meeting of the churches may consider the question. In the meantime, PSW IS a covenanting partner with the ABCUSA with all of the rights to representation and participation implied therein.

Second, the punitive actions contemplated (and in some cases apparently communicated) to the Native American churches represent an unconscionable attack upon the least and the last among us. Several of these pastoral leaders receiving salary support report not having gotten even a cost of living adjustment in years! One of them stood at the PSW Annual Meeting to say ruefully that he doubted if the NM personnel went without their raises during the same period. We could hope that ABCUSA and ABCPSW representatives would behave themselves in the highest ethical manner, even in the middle of this conflict. Much as parents in a divorce often strive to protect the children from any unnecessary pain occasioned by the break-up, so one would expect all parties to this dispute to act like Christians. That would include not using the poor as pawns in the conflict.

Finally, unlike the local church analogy, the Covenant of Relationships explicitly includes language permitting any covenant partner to withdraw from the covenant. While PSW’s actions may not be welcome by Valley Forge, they correspond to the terms of the agreement binding the ABC together and conform to often expressed emphases upon voluntary association and congregational autonomy.

Another analogy frequently used is that of a divorce. Rev. Timothy Bonney, a blogger extraordinaire who is well connected in ABCUSA circles observes:

Frankly, I don't understand what Dr. Salico and the region are complaining about. If a man started divorce proceedings against his wife and then complained to his friends that she was no longer fixing him dinner and cleaning the house they'd likely say, "well what do you expect her to do?"

Timothy makes a very good point. Some PSW people act surprised that Valley Forge has reacted negatively to the PSW board's vote. Certainly no one should expect the "jilted" spouse to respond positively to the announcement of an impending and unwanted divorce. However, this analogy proves too much. For even in the case of a bitter divorce, the angry spouse has no right to cancel the children's health insurance or disenroll the kids from school. These, and many other matters, are points to be negotiated.

During the difficult interim period all parties need to exercise the best in courtesy and civility. Indeed, rules of civility are intended exactly for these kinds of circumstances when our normal emotions would incline us to become bitter, punitive, and play games of tit-for-tat. Surely we can expect more from Christ's servants on both sides.

[These observations are unofficial and unauthorized. They are the sole responsibility of the blogger and are not to be construed as representing any body or entity within the PSW]

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