Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dialogue with an Executive Minister in the ABCUSA

The following reply comes from an interaction in print between me and one of the Executive Ministers of the ABCUSA. In his extensive argument, posted in the American Baptist Evangelicals message board (, Rev. Jim Oldham raised a number of important issues regarding the impending Pacific Southwest board meeting to be held on December 8. His tone was serious, unctious, and eloquent. Nevertheless, it contained some points worthy of dispute. What follows are my responses to some of his arguments.


Thank you for taking the time to interact in this forum. Very few of your colleagues accord us the dignity of this kind of personal attention. It is appreciated. However, your comments raise a number of reactions in me. Let me point to a few issues of disagreement.

You write:
"Contrary to some suggestions, these proposals were not advanced to buy more time to "pick off" individual ABCPSW churches, caucuses, or leaders. Those who put forward these proposals, and the majority of those who supported them, want the ABCPSW in its entirety, and all its affiliated congregations, to remain part of ABC/USA, and are sincere in wanting to address ABCPSW concerns as fully as possible."

Jim, I did not mean to imply that this was the “purpose” behind the action, only that it would be the consequence. The patriarchal relationship National Ministries has had with ethnic churches has been used to the full in recent months in the PSW. Note the words from my original blog:

"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."

My point was that a delay at this time will be used to full effect by Valley Forge. This is not a matter of “suggestions,” it has been happening already and will doubtless continue happening. Would you like to see documentation? 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.

You opine:
"It is my hope that those who seem so "hell bent" on pushing this separation of ABCPSW to finality can slow down long enough to consider the potential long-term negative consequences of this action."

But, some of us have struggled with this issue (and the underlying causes) for three decades. I really don’t see how you can characterize it as a “hell bent” pace. Fortunately for your position, I have no official role in the PSW structure. So my opinion matters little at all.

You sgguest that PSW is needed when you write:
"The ABC/USA needs the gifts, talents, experiences, and perspectives of the leaders, people, churches, and institutions of ABCPSW. "

Perhaps this is so. However, the treatment of our Executive Minister, Dr. Dale Salico, has been shameful and disgusting. He has returned from the past several national meetings shell shocked by the ordeal. Reports by General Board representatives (such as the one by a clergy rep I blogged last week on my "His Barking Dog" site which demeaned Dr. Salico personally), rejection of every initiative he brought to the table in San Antonio, and continuing failure to speak with moral clarity by members of the leadership of ABCUSA and the General Secretary himself show that the ABCUSA has evidenced little interest in the “gifts, talents, experiences, and perspective” of PSW.

There is probably a higher percentage of American Baptists who still have a mixed or negative view of the ordination of women than those endorsing the ordination of practicing homosexuals. Nobody in VF is afraid to proclaim with bold confidence what the majority of us believe to be biblical on the subject of women despite the numbers of American Baptists who do not see it that way.

Indeed, Dr. Medley makes no provision for conditioning his statements with provisos for the minority who continue to dissent. He does not make declarations that he approves the ordination of women "AND will not be separated from his sisters and brothers who, for reasons of sincere conscience, differ on the matter." He simply declares what he believes to be the biblical teaching and which has been affirmed by a majority of American Baptists.

The assumption is that if you are to the right or left on the issue, you must simply accept the fact that you are in a minority on this subject. Your conscientous objections will not be recorded, accounted for, or even mentioned in public proclamations and written statements.

Yet, when it comes to homosexuality, Dr. Medley cannot bring himself to utter what the majority of us believe and have affirmed about human sexuality without constantly catering to, accommodating, or making room for the small percentage of those who disagree. He claims that he repeats the '92 resolution often. Yes, but when he mentions it he almost always gives "equal time" to the opposing view as if the two have identical moral weight and exegetical merit. This vitiates the moral force of the affirmation, turning it instead into a tepid "on the one hand BUT on the other hand" type of equivocation.

You ask:

"How do these words of scripture "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!'" concerning the Body of Christ apply to this situation?"

Frankly, Jim, they have little applicability to this situation. Again, efforts to use the unity of the body (whether the High Priestly prayer of Jesus or the Pauline admonitions) as applying to the current ABC crisis proves too much. If the proponents of unity at any price really mean what they say, then why are we Baptists in the first place? If the calls to unity in Scripture imply an organizational and administrative oneness, then why not disband our denominations, take down our Baptist shingles, and merge with the Roman Catholic communion as one body in Christ?

Once you allow that doctrinal differences and distinctives, a variety of niche ministries, and other even less significant factors offer legitimate reasons to exist as separate ministries, it destroys much of the force of your argument.

In my last six college degree and certificate programs, none of them was completed in a “Baptist” institution. There was no problem affirming unity in Christ with my Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational, Assemblies of God, etc. sisters and brothers. Yet, I have not felt compelled to join with them in their denominations.

And, if structural unity is REALLY as important to GEC members as you say, then why did the GEC fail to affirm the clear biblical admonitions brought to them in San Antonio by Dr. Salico? Hiding behind an ultra individualistic view of Baptist polity, exalting “soul competency” as the organizing rubric for Baptist identity, and failing to give more than lip service to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of Scripture are what have brought us to the brink of possible separation.

I am sure that the PSW does not want to leave. So, if you are still passionate about retaining the PSW, why not redouble your efforts to persuade your General Executive Council colleagues to treat the Bible as more than a wax nose, speak with a univocal moral voice, and mean what they say and say what they mean? As Rodney King used to say: “Can’t we all just get along?”

You raise an important point when you plead:
"Don't turn your back on a sincere offer from your covenant partners to listen to your concerns and seek to determine how we can address them together."

But, Jim, this is utterly disingenuous! I believe you are sincere in your words. However, as wonderful as your rhetoric sounds in print, it loses much when it is subjected to analytical scrutiny and compared with the reality of the past few years. Dr. Salico presented a very clear and persuasive case in San Antonio (including dire warnings of what would happen if such pleas were ignored), only to have our “covenant partners” dismiss his concerns entirely. The VERY articulate and clear presentation he made at the GB last month was also treated as of little consequence. How can you say that a “too little too late” action represents anything either “sincere” or serious?

Let the PSW board vote to RECOMMEND withdrawal to the churches and schedule a vote of the congregations 90 days hence. During the next three months the GEC can do all of the soul searching, repenting, rethinking, and re-imagining they want to do. Three months is plenty of time to change one's mind if that is what the GEC "sincerely" wants to do. We will see who is sincere and who is not.

I am convinced Dr. Salico would be happy to cancel a scheduled meeting of congregations if the problem is resolved.

Dennis E. McFadden

[Just my own opinions, not part of any official entity. I won't be part of the group that is voting on December 8, just praying that they make the right decision. And, as a Christmas present to my friend Dr. Medley, I promise NOT to apply for ANY Executive Minister posts EVER]

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