Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Redlands Meeting with PSW Leaders - Encourages Loyalists; Disappoints Dissenters
News and Analysis
By Dennis E. McFadden
Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of the ABCUSA, and four members of his management team devoted several hours to a positive statement of denominational vision, luncheon fellowship, and a time of questions-and-answers Tuesday at the First Baptist Church of Redlands (CA). Dealing with a group of approximately 65-70 PSW leaders and lay people (including about eight senior pastors), Medley explained how congregations may remain affiliated with the ABCUSA when, and if, the ABCPSW follows through with its expressed intentions to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships with the ABCUSA.
Establishing at the outset the purpose of the meeting, Medley said that two principles were in play:
1. “We’re not here to get into a big debate about ‘the’ issue.”
2. “We’re not here to denigrate or to bad mouth the region.”
“Relax, we’re here to be brothers and sisters,” Medley assured his audience. From what this blogger could observe, there was little reason for Medley to fear. Most of the audience seemed to be made up of ABC loyalists, including a number of older lay people from the Redlands congregation, long a bastion of progressive ideology among PSW Baptists.
Among the few senior pastors in attendance, most had seemed to have made up their own minds prior to the meeting for or against Dr. Medley’s position, including Dr. Glenn Layne, creator of the blog, “Durable Data” (durabledata.blogspot.com) of FBC Temple City, Dr. Lee Hamby of FBC Alhambra, Rev. Joe Lutz or the FBC of Riverside, and Dr. Joe DeRoulhac of FBC Redlands.
Dr. Medley was joined by Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins III, Rev. Charles Jones, Dr. Sumner Grant, and Dr. Jeff Woods.
Characterizing the current situation between the PSW and the ABCUSA as “grievous,” Dr. Medley said, “We continue to deeply care about this region and the congregations of this region. It is our heartfelt desire that the region would remain in the ABC and if the region chooses not to remain, that congregations will decide to remain part of the family.” He indicated that his presence was due to a burden of care and concern for “our total ABC life.”
Describing the May letter from the PSW board, his own formal response, the meeting with ABC President Peggy Johnson and himself with 300 PSW leaders in September, and the subsequent PSW board decision to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships, Dr. Medley reaffirmed his hope for continued dialogue.
Medley articulated the same five principles that had been at the heart of his pastoral letter to the churches last month. These included the following points:
* Family life policy statement – monogamous life long union
* 1992 resolution declaring homosexuality to be incompatible with biblical teaching.
* The resolution recognizing a variety of opinions among American Baptists on human sexuality and calls for continuing dialogue.
* Statement in the By-Laws of ABCUSA (out of the 1907 founding of the Northern Baptists) to the effect that congregations are autonomous and that national policies are advisory only.
* Finally, the fact that we have been bound together in mission and that the associational principle is important to us all as we work together to accomplish what we cannot achieve separately (e.g. referencing the Autonomy and Interdependence piece published more than a decade ago).
Bottom line: the ABCUSA is set up to be a “missional organization, not a legislative one,” Dr. Medley said. The role of Scriptural interpretation is ascribed to the province of the local congregations. Admitting that some internal debate has surrounded how much time to devote to this issue, Medley felt that, as a denomination, we need to move on with our missional goals rather than focus on points of disagreement.
When people ask him, “Where is your passion?,” Dr. Medley likes to answer: We are committed to fostering missional congregations that develop radical disciples rooted in radical love expressed in radical servant hood; to pursue that mission with energy and vigor; to live for the sake of the world and in the power of the Gospel. That is what I am passionate about as General Secretary.”
Dr. Jeff Woods, Deputy General Secretary for Regional Relationships, answered one perplexing question regarding the future of congregations remaining with the ABCUSA if the PSW withdraws. Woods allowed that they would probably be formed into an association together, under the watchful care of a “parent” region. He indicated that one or two regions have already been approached and are willing to fill in that role. Dr. Woods suggested that such an association may wish to become a region on their own. If so, they would be encouraged to begin the application process which may take between one and two years to bring to completion.
Demonstrating why he is one of VF’s most effective communicators, Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins III, used his time at the podium to engage in a heartfelt appeal, full of emotional potency. He told the story of his nurturing within the PSW. Born in Riverside, he was educated at Cal State Fullerton, went to seminary at ABSW in Covina, and served on the pastoral staff at the FBC of Ontario. He movingly recounted his experience as a black man in a white society and the struggle to feel a sense of belonging.
Then, Dr. Wright-Riggins recounted how he, his wife, and youngest child moved to VF for him to assume responsibilities as Executive Director of NM. They had a church photograph taken and made into a family painting to hang in their new home. When one of his sons, who had remained behind in California, visited them, he asked: “Am I part of the family portrait?” Dr. Wright-Riggins said that he immediately moved the painting to the basement and it has never seen the light of day since.
Drawing out the implications of his illustration, he said: “It grieves me that this family that gave birth to me . . . that we might not have each other in the picture. I pray for a breakthrough so that we can have as many as we can to remain in that family portrait.”
By way of observation and analysis, several points surface as worthy of comment.
First, Dr. Medley looked and sounded incredibly tired and subdued. Always the gentle and gentlemanly Christian, he radiated kindness and affability. Few people are more genuinely nice, more immediately sympathetic, and more evidently spiritual than Dr. Medley. His kindness and demeanor could melt ice. Nevertheless, even granting that he was recovering from a cold which left his voice husky, he reminded me of a shy child selling candy door-to door. I almost expected him to say, “Good morning, I’m selling candy for my school. You don’t want to buy any, do you?”
Part of the problem may relate to the extremely difficult situation between PSW and the national body. Even with a sympathetic crowd composed largely of loyalists, leading voices advocating withdrawal such as Dale Salico, Glenn Layne, and Lee Hamby were also in the room. When I suggested to him privately that this can hardly be an easy time of life for him, he responded with a sigh and observed: “Your blog doesn’t make it any easier.” As always, Dr. Medley exemplifies so many Christian graces. One must work very hard to disagree with a man so agreeable.
Second, as to the impact of the gathering, it would seem to be too little too late. Coupled with the presence of so few senior pastors in the first gathering yesterday, this must have been a major disappointment for the team from VF. The top executives of a national denomination travel three thousand miles to face a crisis threatening to sever the fellowship and two out of three meetings only produce fifteen or so senior pastors?
The demographics of the group meeting in Redlands reflected a high percentage of the progressives from the FBC of Redlands and loyalists to the ABCUSA. Preaching to the choir, Dr. Medley certainly said nothing to convince the few pastors present to change their minds about withdrawing from the ABC.
And, while Dr. Wright-Riggins made an extremely effective emotional appeal, avoiding "the" issue in favor of a call to family ties, some of those present were offended by his presentation. One pastoral staff member told me that the use of such an emotionally laden story was "offensive" and a "cheap ploy." Another pastor shared that he could not believe that Wright-Riggins would believe the audience so unsophisticated as to "bite at that kind of bait."
About the only fireworks came when Dr. Glenn Layne raised the point that in spite of all of the talk about respecting the region and the regions, ABC actions betray that claim. He cited the effort VF made to secure berths for the disfellowshiped congregations removed from the ABCW several years ago. Rather than “respecting” the decision of the region, the denomination acted highhandedly in assisting them to find non-geographical lodgment in other regions, Layne suggested. Dr. Medley’s only response was that “Not everyone sees it the way you do.”
We will need to wait for the final session tonight in Pasadena before evaluating the visit by the VF executives in a conclusive way. However, with two of the three meetings completed, the exchanges offered little to warm the hearts of ABC loyalists and nothing to change the minds of those favoring withdrawal.