Wednesday, November 30, 2005

PSW and the Politics of Delay

PSW and the Politics of Delay
An Opinion Piece by Dennis E. McFadden

Most people realize by now that the vote this past September was not for the PSW to “withdraw” from the ABCUSA, but to initiate the process of withdrawal. On Thursday, December 8, the Board of the ABCPSW will meet to decide whether or not to recommend separation from the ABCUSA and if so to schedule a vote of the churches on the matter. Right? Well, not exactly.

During the round of meetings earlier this month in Green Lake, the General Executive Council took three actions. First, they voted to express in writing a desire for PSW to remain in the Covenant of Relationships (i.e., stay in the denomination). Second, they appointed a group of people to craft and implement an intervention strategy to implore PSW to reconsider and then to report back to the GEC in April of 2006. Third, they admitted that the “confluence of events” is “symptomatic of a need for a comprehensive reevaluation of the very character of what it means to be a denomination in this day.”

What does that mean? Well, for one, it could cause PSW to decide to delay their decision. After all, who would be so churlish and mean-spirited as to reject a sister or brother’s heart-felt plea for reconciliation and for more time to consider if a way can be found leading to peace and unity? Since it would be almost impossible for the newly tasked group to organize, “craft and implement an intervention strategy” and schedule flights to PSW before next Thursday, should the board accede to this request, it will doubtless push back the timetable.

Since the PSW rules call for a 90 day notice for a meeting of the region, this would inevitably buy time for the ABCUSA to continue using their influence on congregations to induce them to pull away from the PSW plan. We have already seen much evidence that this is exactly what is happening.

Valley Forge leaders, particularly those in National Ministries have been telephoning, e-mailing, and making cross-country trips to PSW to meet with several of the ethnic caucuses. My sources tell me that both the African-American and Hispanic churches are receiving enormous pressure from National Ministries to stay with the “family,” rejecting the anticipated PSW separation. John Sundquist has been on a tour of the top giving churches in the country to sound them out on the issue of withdrawal and to shore up support for denominational unity.

Hispanic representatives report that they feel a need for more time to process the issue and to consider the “other side” and its arguments. They have put pressure on Dr. Salico to do everything in his power to delay a vote until the Hispanic congregations feel better about the timing of a decision.

Meanwhile pastors from several of the larger, predominately white churches, report rising frustration on the part of their lay leadership. Having heard of the board’s initial action in September, many do not understand “what is taking so long.” A delay at this point will look more like weakness and indecision on the part of PSW than a courteous nod to the request of fellow believers or as an opportunity to gather information necessary before a recommendation may be made.

An additional side effect is the stultifying impact it will likely have on moving forward with the implementation of the long awaited new vision for the region. Plans had been announced to roll out the “transformation” vision during the summer and fall of 2005 and to follow up with mentoring, coaching, and teaching components.

Conventional wisdom among most church consultants says that a deep organizational crisis trumps everything else you may want to initiate or accomplish. It would be foolish to begin the vision implementation in earnest until after the denominational relationship issue has been determined. Delays in the final meeting of congregations will produce a cascading effect upon other vital regional programs, further reinforcing what will then appear to be an image of indecision and ineptitude.

Ironically, a refusal on December 8 to give a clear and decisive recommendation to the churches will frustrate a number of the congregations and result in sending a signal to other regions that PSW does not have the will to follow through on its bold words of September. Rather than leading the evangelical wing of the discontented American Baptists, PSW may actually contribute to a strengthening, albeit temporarily, of Valley Forge’s hand.

Clearly the person with the most difficult position in all of this is the ever-faithful soldier, Dr. Salico. After getting “beaten up” in the last round of denominational meetings in Green Lake, he has a number of critical choices to make. He is being squeezed by proponents of separation, including some of his own staff, to "shake the dust off his sandals and get it all over with" at the same time that some of his ethnic pastors are pleading for more time for processing the decision. Based upon my experience with Dale, I predict he will acquit himself splendidly. If John Kennedy were around today, I know who I would nominate for a new chapter in his book, Profiles in Courage: Dr. Dale Salico.

[No one should misconstrue this posting as in any way connected to any entity or person in the PSW. Like Demosthenes of old, I'm just mumbling away with a handful of marbles in my mouth.]

No comments: