Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Dr. Salico Answers 10 of Your Questions ABout Local Church Relationships

B. ABCPSW Local Church Relationships

B1. Will churches have an opportunity to vote on whether to remain in the ABCUSA?

Yes. When the PSW Board receives the report of its Executive Committee on December 8 regarding issues related to withdrawal from the Covenant of Relationships, the Board will determine whether to recommend action to the churches. If the Board decides to proceed toward withdrawal, it will call a special Business Meeting of the ABCPSW, providing not less than 90 days notice of the meeting as well as a full report on the action proposed. At that meeting the churches of the Region will make the final decision on whether the Region will stay in Covenant with the ABCUSA.

Secondly, even if the churches vote to withdraw the Region’s membership in the Covenant of Relationships, individual congregations remain members of the ABCUSA unless or until they vote themselves out of membership in accordance with their own bylaws.

B2. Will churches be able to be members of both the ABCUSA and the ABCPSW if the Region withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships?

Yes. This is called dual alignment and it is very common in the ABC. The details of how this may be done need to be finalized in conversations between the ABCPSW, the ABCUSA and other ABC Regions.

B3. Our church agrees with the stand of the PSW Board and is considering leaving the ABCUSA immediately. Are there any reasons we should delay such action?

Yes, we urge that all churches continue their current affiliation with ABCPSW and ABCUSA.

According to the bylaws of the ABCPSW, a church that withdraws from the ABCUSA while remaining a member of the ABCPSW is not eligible to vote in a business session of the Region on any measure involving or affecting the relationship of the Region to the American Baptist Churches in the USA. Furthermore, members of the PSW Board of Directors are required to be members in a church belonging both to the ABCPSW and the ABCUSA. These provisions were established several years ago when the category of “affiliated membership” was created for churches that wished to remain in the ABCPSW while withdrawing from the ABCUSA.

While the ABCPSW board has initiated the process to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA, the Region remains a full covenant partner in the ABCUSA until a vote of church delegates at a specially called meeting of the Region votes to end that relationship. The earliest possible date for such a meeting is March, 2006. Churches that withdraw from the ABCUSA prior to that time will not be eligible to vote in that meeting. We encourage churches to be patient and wait until after the Region votes. We should have much clearer understanding of our Regional relationships by then.

B4. Will churches still be able to support American Baptist missionaries, institutions and projects if the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships? How?

Churches will still be able to support American Baptist missionaries, institutions and projects. The ABCPSW is in discussion with the ABCUSA regarding how this will be done in the future.

B5. How should churches direct their mission giving to American Baptist related mission now?

As far as mission giving is concerned, nothing has changed. All mission giving should be reported on the mission remittance form supplied by the ABCPSW Church Resource Center and sent to the Church Resource Center for distribution. This will remain the same at least through the end of 2005.

B6. Is it true that if the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships that all PSW ordinations will be valid only in local churches?

No. All PSW ordinations will remain valid throughout the ABCPSW. In addition, the Region is in discussions with other ABC Regions regarding understandings for cooperation in mission and ministry, including mutual recognition of ordination.

B7. Aren’t congregational autonomy and soul liberty core values for Baptists?

Congregational autonomy and soul liberty have always been important convictions for Baptists, but in the twentieth century these two values were lifted to a higher priority among American Baptists than in previous generations or among most other Baptist groups. The Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA), which is considered the ancestor of Baptist bodies in the United States, including American Baptists, had a lengthy confession of faith when it was founded. In order to insure the doctrinal integrity of its pastors and churches, the PBA required ordination candidates and congregations to comply with its confession. Most Baptist organizations and congregations before the twentieth century had such guidelines, and many still do today. American Baptists actually represent a minority voice among Baptists by insisting on absolutely no enforcement of doctrinal boundaries.

What’s the problem with that?

The problem is that the breadth of diversity regarding theological and moral convictions among American Baptists is hindering the ABC from being as effective a mission organization as it might be. In the past 12 years, three consultants have told the ABCUSA General Board that the denomination cannot conduct a national fundraising drive for new church planting and other initiatives because it is too divided. People are reluctant to give generously to a mission organization when they do not know whether their donations will be used to support viewpoints or causes they find morally and Biblically objectionable.

How can this be solved?

This is where Biblical authority and accountability come in to the picture. The ABCUSA believes in Biblical authority, and has an outstanding statement about it in a paper called “We Are American Baptists.” The problem is that there are no guidelines for accountability. Therefore American Baptists enforce their Bylaws, Standing Rules and Covenants, but not the clear teaching of the Bible.

B8. Can a group hold leaders and congregations accountable without getting legalistic?

We believe that in the ABCPSW we have a healthy balance of accountability and freedom. The Region affirms a “Confession of Our Common Faith” and a “Resolution on Human Sexuality and the Church.” At the time of ordination or pastoral placement candidates are asked to affirm their agreement with these documents. According to the bylaws of the ABCPSW, member congregations are required “to share in the vision for ministry of the Region and be able to share in the Biblical focus on mission of our associated churches.” The “Guiding Principles of the ABCPSW state: With regard to the teaching, leadership, and membership of the Region, the Executive Minister shall not fail to uphold high standards of biblical teaching and morality, as described in, but not limited to, “ABCPSW Resolution on Human Sexuality and the Church,” [and] “A Confession of Our Common Faith.”

These policies to maintain unity of purpose in our Region are a source of strength and health for our congregations. There is no need to patrol our churches and pastors or insist on rigid or narrow doctrinal uniformity. Agreement with Regional guidelines has been voluntary and enthusiastic.

B9. Are there services to my church that ABCUSA cannot provide but only the PSW can?

Absolutely! In accordance with the new vision, the PSW is developing and launching powerful resources to help build leaders. These include mentoring groups, leadership coaching of pastors, and training opportunities – all designed to help build a strong leadership team in your church. There are also continuing resources like Good Sense and other stewardship programs, short term mission opportunities, leadership search and placement services, congregational assessments, etc.

B10. Our Church will likely withdraw from the ABCUSA if the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships. What are the possible legal implications of leaving the ABCUSA?

Churches should review the documents that may define their relationship with the ABCUSA and/or the ABCPSW. These include:

Articles of Incorporation.Church Bylaws or Constitutions.Other documents that deal with the operation and governance of the church.

There are numerous situations in which a church’s relationship with the ABCUSA and/or the ABCPSW is pivotal to a property or financial transaction. Often legal documents state that a loan or actual ownership of a property is conditioned on the church continuing in affiliation with the ABCUSA. For this reason, we recommend that churches review documents for reference to the ABCUSA including:
a) Loan Agreements and Promissory notes, including loans from ABCPSW, the ABCUSA, another ABC congregation or the American Baptist Extension Corporation.
b) Trust Deeds
c) Deeds and related title documents
d) Property Trust Agreements
e) Leases
f) Property use agreements
g) Church or pastor support agreements
h) Employment agreements
i) Property purchase agreements or option to purchase agreements
j) Personal property trust agreements (for example, gifts of cash or property in a special fund or trust for the support of a church program)
k) Guarantees

In addition, churches may have entered into gift annuities, charitable remainder or charitable lead trusts, or similar arrangements with church members providing for payments. These should be reviewed to ascertain whether there are terms or conditions requiring affiliation with the ABCUSA.

This is not an exhaustive list, but one intended to encourage you to review potentially important documents before taking actions. All documents that refer to the relationship between a church and the ABCUSA and/or the ABCPSW should be reviewed for their effect on both parties, and to determine steps that should be taken to avoid problems.

If your review brings to light a situation that may be impacted by your church’s decision, we urge you to consult with legal counsel for guidance on steps you should take to resolve the situation.

In addition to a church’s own records and archives, copies or originals of many church legal documents are on file at the ABCPSW Church Resource Center.

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