Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Top Stories Redux

The editors of Crosswalk's Religion Today ( offer their own list of "Top Ten" religion stories in 2006. Most of the items correspond to the earlier list printed. But, I thought you might appreciate the contrast.

10) Navy chaplain’s fight to pray in Jesus’ name
(See Also: Navy Chaplain now Fighting Forced Discharge)
“Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt received a reprimand and a suspended fine for the conviction, but he says the conviction will effectively end his military career, possibly by the end of the year. But Klingenschmitt says he will appeal the decision using the argument that the order was based on an illegal policy put in place by the Secretary of the Navy. ‘When I went there and prayed in Jesus' name, I relied upon the Navy uniform regulations,’ Klingenschmitt explains. ‘But no, the judge ruled that those uniform regulations don't protect me because the Secretary of the Navy policy now has redefined 'public worship.' It's redefined 'religious observance.’’”
Taking this basic Christian tenet away from military chaplains not only begs the question of what other freedoms may be lost, but what brand of religion are our chaplains allowed to preach to our troops?

Darfur conflict ongoing; some Christian ministries leaving
(See Also: Safe Return of Darfur Christian Relief Worker)

“At a time when it would be hard to imagine a more deteriorated Darfur – the situation has indeed worsened, forcing many relief groups and individuals to finally relent and flee the human-caused wasteland. ‘It is unbelievable for any human being to imagine that the entire Darfur right now is unsafe even in the cities,’ said Motasim Adam, a Darfurian refugee and president of the Darfur People’s Association of New York.”

You know it’s bad when even the Church has to vacate. Hope seems far away.

8) Christian movies keep coming (
End of the Spear, The Nativity, Facing the Giants (and it’s PG rating))

A conservative advocacy group is bristling over the PG rating given to a new family film with a "pro-God theme." According to the movie poster, the theme of Facing the Giants is, "Never give up, never back down, never lose faith." But the movie poster also says parental guidance is suggested "for some thematic elements."

These films and others like them continue to receive their fair share of reviews from critics both religious and secular. The more Christians buy tickets to them, the more they’ll get made.

American Christians on the forefront of aid during and after Israeli/Lebanese conflict

“Evangelical Christians dug deep into their pockets to provide humanitarian relief to Israel during the war in Lebanon this summer, donating nearly $20 million dollars to help rebuild the north, according to estimates. Though largely overshadowed by the massive generosity of their American Jewish counterparts, the pro-Israel Christian community also rallied significantly in support of the north, with less fanfare.”

The war dominated headlines over the summer, but it never led to the doom some predicted. Out of the chaos came the reminder that many Christians are strong supporters of Israel.

6) Gnosticism Returns (
Gospel of Judas/Da Vinci Code film near-simultaneous release)

“Gnostic ideas did become popular later, and they are becoming increasingly popular now. The truth of the Gospel stands, and Christians will retain firm confidence in the authenticity of the New Testament and, in particular, of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Nevertheless, old Gnosticisms are continually repackaged and "rediscovered" even as new forms of Gnostic thought emerge in our postmodern culture. Informed Christians will be watchful and aware when confronting churches or institutions that present spurious writings, rejected as heretical by the early church, on the same plane as the New Testament.”

The Gnostic Gospels received renewed interest from seekers, scholars, and believers alike in April and May, as everyone wanted to know what to make of the claims of The Da Vinci Code, the histories of Mary Magdalene and Judas, and how to share the truth with their friends. For all the noise at the time, things sure have quieted down, thanks in part to the movie’s poor showing.

5) Muslims offended by
Danish cartoons, Pope’s speech
(See Also: Pope Apologizes for Speech)

“The leaders of various religious parties in a joint statement termed the Pope’s comments linking Islam with violence as the third attack on Islam this year after alleged sacrilege of Quran by US soldiers in Guantanamo Bay prison facility and publication of blasphemous caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad by western publications. ‘The Pope should tender apology to Muslims and take his words back,’ the NNI quoted the religious leaders as saying.”

If it’s tough for you to swallow how apologies to non-Christian groups are easily handed out, but apologies to Christians are almost never seen, just know you aren’t alone…

ECUSA/Bishop Jefferts-Schori fallout
(See Also: ECUSA to Lose Its Largest Congregation)

“Controversy has escalated in the Episcopal Church after the denomination that three years ago ordained an openly homosexual bishop chose a woman as its national leader -- a move that observers predict could signal a major global split within the larger Anglican Communion. Katharine Jefferts Schori, bishop of the Diocese of Nevada, is the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church after a vote by delegates to the Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, June 18. Schori said she voted to confirm Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003, and she has said she does not believe homosexuality is a sin.”

Since Jefferts-Schori’s election, more congregations are deciding to split with the Episcopal church, including two of Virginia’s oldest and largest this past month. When the Word is compromised in the highest levels of church leadership, why should we expect it to thrive?

3) Rick Warren in the middle of divisive issues (
global warming, AIDS, Syria, Obama)

“I do think that evangelicals as a whole, we’re trying to broaden the agenda. There’s no doubt about that. The way I tell it to my people is the church is the body of Christ, and for the last 50 years, the hands and the feet have been amputated. And all we’ve been is a big mouth. And most of the time, we’re known for what we’re against. And frankly, I’m tired of that. I think the church should be known for what it’s for, not what it’s against.” –Rick Warren, on NBC’s Meet the Press Christmas Eve

Not everyone agreed with the themes of The Purpose-Driven Life. But neither could anyone have foreseen the polarizing effect the Saddleback pastor could have following his success. Consider for a moment the results of a poll we recently ran on Crosswalk, which asked: “Do you find yourself more in agreement or disagreement with Rick Warren's stances and actions?” Out of 282 respondents, 63 percent said they tend to disagree with what Pastor Warren says and does. Only 27 percent tend to agree with Warren right now.

Ted Haggard steps down from pastorate and NAE
(See Also: Haggard Scandal, Confession Shakes Evangelical Community)
Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals and former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, has been in seclusion as the evangelical Christian community reels from news of his admission that he lied to conceal his "sexual immorality." Amid scandal involving allegations made by a male "escort," Haggard has stepped down from his posts and, in a letter to his church community, confessed his struggle of many years with "repulsive and dark" desires. According to reports, the former pastor denied in the letter that all of the allegations against him are true but said "enough of them are that I was appropriately removed" from church leadership.
The healing has hopefully begun. The media has used Haggard’s fall and that of other pastors as a springboard for hopes that maybe Bible-believing Christians will become more gay-friendly. But our true hope is that Haggard’s failure will remind all of us how easy it is to become ensnared by temptation, and that his admission will light the path for others in leadership who first need to get the log out of their own eyes.

And our top Religion Today story for 2006…

Amish response to Pennsylvania schoolhouse shooting
“The Amish have been reaching out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack. Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them… Staring down the barrel of Charles Carl Roberts' gun, 13-year-old Marian Fisher and her 11-year-old sister, Barbie, bravely pleaded with the madman to shoot them and spare the eight other girls he was holding hostage. "Marian said, 'Shoot me first,' and Barbie said, 'Shoot me second,' " said midwife Rita Rhoads, who had helped deliver several of the victims. "They were really trying to save the younger girls. It is a real reflection of their faith’… At the behest of Amish leaders, a fund has also been set up for the killer's widow and three children.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Top Religion Stories of 2006???

His Barking Dog has been preoccupied with activities within the Baptist clan during 2006. But, wiser heads have observed newsmaking events and trends in the broader culture. Their findings?

The Religion Newswriters Association has released its annual survey:

"The online poll of RNA members was conducted Dec. 8th to 12th. A total of 149 people voted for a response rate of 35 percent. RNA has conducted the poll since the 1970s. This year's results appear below.

1. Muslims in a number of countries react violently to publication of Muhammad cartoons in Denmark and other European nations. Scores of both Christians and Muslims are killed in riots in Nigeria.

2. Pope Benedict XVI angers Muslims by including in a speech a centuries-old quote linking Islam and violence. He apologizes and later smooths the waters on a trip to Turkey. Earlier, he begins to downsize the curia and emphasizes God's love in his first encyclical.

3. The Episcopal Church riles conservatives when the General Convention elects a presiding bishop who supported the consecration of a U.S. gay bishop, which conservatives oppose as unbiblical. Seven Episcopal dioceses refuse to recognize the leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is also the first woman elected to the top post. Later, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin becomes the first diocese to adopt measures that set the stage for it to secede from the denomination.

4. Charismatic leader Ted Haggard resigns as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and is dismissed as pastor of the huge New Life Church in Colorado Springs after allegations surface of gay sex and methamphetamine use.

5. Candidates backed by the Religious Right suffer a series of defeats in the fall elections, with many voters citing morality as one of the strongest motivators in the way they cast their ballot.

6. Religious voices grow louder for peace in Iraq, but by year's end experts fear the spread of sectarian tensions throughout the Middle East. Conflicts between Sunni and Shiite Muslims increase, and the Israeli incursion in Lebanon aimed at curbing attacks by Hezbollah touches off major strife within Lebanon. Christian churches also reconsider efforts to pressure Israel on the Palestinian question.

7. The schoolhouse shooting deaths of five Amish girls in Bart Township, Pa., draws international attention on the Amish community's ethic of forgiveness after some Amish attend the killer's funeral.

8. (tie) The release of the film "The Da Vinci Code" adds to the previous buzz about Dan Brown's novel. Religious critics, who say the book portrays traditional Christianity as a fraud, are divided over whether to boycott the film or hold discussion groups. Controversial plot lines include Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and conceiving a child.

8. (tie) Same sex marriage bans pass in seven of eight states that hold referendums on the issue during mid-term elections; Arizona becomes the first state in which voters defeat a same-sex marriage ban. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as married couples.

10. President Bush casts his first veto to defeat a bill calling for expanded stem-cell research, to the delight of religious conservatives and the disappointment of more liberal ones. The issue is later credited with playing a deciding role in the key Missouri Senate race. Meanwhile, progress is reported in efforts to create stem-cell lines without destroying embryos."

What do you think? Are there events the religious newswriters missed that you think are of seminal significance? Are some of their choices less important in the long run?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Cradle the World Cannot Hold

Chromatius (fl. 400), served as Bishop of Aquileia. He was a friend of Rufinus and Jerome and the author of numerous tracts and sermons. His Tractate on Matthew contains the following reflection upon the visit of the magi and contains some of the best of the consensual exegesis of the church prior to our critical era.

Let us now observe how glorious was the dignity that attended the King after his birth, after the magi in their journey remained obedient to the star. For immediately the magi fell to their knees and adored the one born as Lord. There in his very cradle they venerated him with offerings of gifts, though Jesus was merely a whimpering infant. They perceived one thing with the eyes of their bodies but another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the body he assumed was discerned, but the glory of his divinity is now made manifest. A boy he is, but it is God who is adored. How inexpressible is the mystery of his divine honor!

The invisible and eternal nature did not hesitate to take on the weaknesses of the flesh on our behalf. The Son of God, who is God of the universe, is born a human being in the flesh. He permits himself to be placed in a manger, and the heavens are within the manger. He is kept in a cradle, a cradle that the world cannot hold. He is heard in the voice of a crying infant. This is the same one for whose voice the whole world would tremble in the hour of his passion. Thus he is the One, the God of glory and the Lord of majesty, whom as a tiny infant the magi recognize. It is he who while a child was truly God and King eternal. To him Isaiah pointed, saying, “For a boy has been born to you; a son has been given to you, a son whose empire has been forged on his shoulders.”

To the readers of His Barking Dog, I have one message today: May our Lord grant you a most blessed and meaningful Christmas, full of a sense of God's condescending love!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Merry CHRISTmas, Dr. Dawkins!

How do the new post-Christian atheists celebrate Christmas? Recently Roger Kennedy of The New York Times mused about the observance of Christmas by the new crop of atheists who have books selling off the shelves of Borders and Barnes and Noble, authors such as Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion).

As “post-Christian” atheists, they are content to wish one another a purely secularized “Merry Christmas,” shorn of the Christological content and evangelical implications. In a recent blog by Al Mohler, he characterizes Dawkins as follows: “The self-identified ‘post-Christian atheist’ argues that Christmas long ago ceased to be a ‘religious festival.’ He dislikes silly Christmas songs on the basis of aesthetic judgment (a judgment shared, by the way, by many Christians) and is happy to ‘wish everyone a Merry Christmas.’"

Just as God used Balaam’s ass to speak forth his truth, so the creator who came into his creation two thousand years ago seems quite able to speak forth his message through the vehicle of an evolutionary Oxford professor, despite himself. Whether he likes it or not, “Merry Christmas” cannot be so easily separated from the underlying core of truth: It is Christ who transforms our brutal alienation into a truly merry reconciliation.

As the Christmas card I am giving this year (designed by the good folks at Answers in Genesis) puts it: "As promised from the beginning, the Creator stepped into His creation to give the greatest gift of all. Have a blessed Christmas!"

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Barking Dog Was Let Inside the House, Oh My!"

First impressions on the Transformation Ministries Board

After receiving a several hour board orientation on Wednesday and participating in an all day board meeting yesterday, there are a few observations worth sharing regarding the board of Transformation Ministries (formerly ABCPSW) . . .

As an organization we have moved on. While some of us still grieve over the withdrawal from an organization we were part of for decades (in my case more than half a century!), as an organization Transformation Ministries does not look backward, only forward. Conversations about “the” ABC were relegated to break times between some of us older pastor types. There was no “bad mouthing,” no conspiring, and no attention paid to fighting with our sisters and brothers in the ABC. It was as close to a “bless each other and move on” situation as one could imagine. Dale Salico did not even appear particularly aware of what has been happening in the ABC since withdrawal some months ago.

TransMin is rapidly retooling to have a congregation focus and truly associational feel, so different from most regional judicatories in any number of denominations. The talk yesterday was on seeing ourselves as a “movement of Baptist churches in association with each other.”

TransMin has made a commitment to shed the trappings of old patterns of judicatory management in order to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

First, yesterday we voted to offer nearly two dozen congregations their deeds which have been held by the region. These were the first churches our staff had completed researching; many more are yet to come. In some cases this meant forgiving gift loans from decades ago. In other instances, it involved forgiving substantial debts of more recent vintage. And, in one example where a church wanted to withdraw from TransMin and to remain in the ABCUSA, we will be offering to transfer their deed to another ABC region. The board is intent upon "getting out of the property business."

Second, the board has adopted a modified “Carver Model” of policy governance so popular in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. In place of old hierarchical micromanagement style, the board, executive minister, and staff have clearly delineated roles and functions. With carefully articulated and “nested” sets of “guiding principles,” “boundary principles,” and “accountability principles,” the board governs, the executive leads, and the staff manages. Rather than getting caught up in the minutiae of management, the board devotes its time to prayer, Bible study, in being inserviced on policy governance, and governing by setting policy and holding the executive accountable for specific, empirical, and written outcomes. The board majors on ends and the executive and his staff are given the authority and responsibility to select appropriate means consistent with the guidelines, boundary principles, and accountability standards.

There remains a good deal of hurt occasioned by misleading characterizations, misstatements, and outright untruths being reported out of meetings with ABC officials attempting to cobble together a new ABC region in the Southwest. One might expect sisters and brothers to at least attempt to meet the biblical standard of not bearing false witness. Here again, Dr. Salico has elected to take the “high road” and has neither responded in kind nor did he engage in efforts to undermine the work of the ABC representatives, even when the tactics have not met the minimal standards of truthfulness or fair play.

I am privileged and excited about being part of a movement of Baptists who take ALL of the Baptist distinctives, including biblical authority and classic orthodoxy, seriously. As organizations falter and crumble around us, may the Lord add his blessing to this important new work.

[His Barking Dog is actually a part of the board of TransMin and must claim some responsibility for decisions made by that body. However, as a new member without tenure or access to the executive committee, my barkings are still VERY much my own and undirected by my masters in the Southwest. Hey, Dale, arf . . . arf. . .. owww . . . did you have to put such a heavy choke chain on me?]

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

ABC Insider Stinnett Weighs in on ABC Reorganization Efforts

Executive Minister Dr. Dwight Stinnett, posted an incredibly insightful piece on the current state of ABC reorganization efforts on his blog today ( While pessimistic in tone, it represents one of the most candid pieces I have ever read by an ABC insider. Here is just one small sample from a very long blog . . .

Our present structure is one designed for impasse, inaction and frustration. The program boards (International Ministries and National Ministries) are tied to the General Board in a Gordian knot that neither can unilaterally cut. The General Board is specifically charged to “give general oversight and direction for the life and mission of the denomination,” and to “set policy in the areas of program functions, planning, coordination and evaluation.” The General Secretary (as the chief employee of the General Board) is “responsible for implementing all General Board policy decisions and for coordinating the implementation of American Baptist Policy Statements and Resolutions.” But there is no authority by which the General Board (or the General Secretary) may in fact implement those functions, goals, policies, etc., with regard to the program boards.

Stinnett goes on to draw the following conclusions about the trajectory of reorganization efforts in the ABCUSA . . .

While a single board is both my heart’s desire and my best organizational perspective, it seems very doubtful that we will go that way. It seems more likely to me that we will find ways to get farther apart and have even less mutual responsibility—so we can stop irritating one another. There is potent energy from both the Left and the Right driving this. The price we will pay is that we will be able to do even less together and our common identity will be even more diluted. I also predict that this “solution” will prove unsatisfying. At some point (certainly after I am gone) there will be another effort to “unify” us. I hope it works. If not, we will dissipate and spin apart into complete irrelevance.

Stinnett seems on target in his analysis. The pressure from those on both the right and the left will result (most likely) in some compromise designed to "find ways to get farther apart and have even less mutual responsibility--so we can stop irritating one another." And, my organizational behavior training leads me to believe he is also correct in his prediction that such a "solution" will prove "unsatisfying."

We face a major crisis in authority. From whence do we derive our authority? Does the text of the Bible (as the written Word of God) mean what it SAYS and say what it means (after being interpreted contextually, historically, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) OR is the Bible but one element of consideration to be weighed along with a variety of other factors such as current sociological fads, psychological theories, current trends and mores in our own secular society, etc.?

Those who elect to temporize the Bible in light of society's current predilections stand at odds with those who insist on viewing the Bible as God's revealed voice with a transculturally relevant message. Dwight is correct. A solution that just finds ways to keep the two views far enough apart so as not to keep "irritating one another" will prove about as satisfying as a marriage lived out in two separate houses. Ultimately a truly substantial ground for common confession must be found or the whole thing will dissolve into irrelevance.

My point of quibble with Dr. Stinnett relates to his prediction that we have as much time as he evidently anticipates (i.e., "certainly after I'm gone") for the organization to get its collective act together. With Transformation Ministries already gone and significant mission giving congregations dropping out on a regular basis, do you really think that any solution that cannot even be voted on until 2009 (at the earliest) will come soon enough to staunch the flow of ecclesiastical blood?

[His Barking Dog, back from his daughter's wedding and the second of three receptions, does not intend to get into a barking game with ABC loyalists. However, Dr. Stinnett's provocative piece was too important to ignore. While these observations are my own opinions ONLY, still unrelated to my domestic masters in the southwest, Dr. Stinnett's blog is MUST reading for those interested in Baptist polity.]

Monday, December 04, 2006

"The Nativity Story" - Hagiographic Retelling of the Greatest Story Ever Told

The Nativity Story conveys both one of the most realistic treatments of the nativity ever filmed and one of the most fawningly hagiographic. Never has Bethlehem or Nazareth appeared so gritty and realistically Middle Eastern. Seldom have the characters ever looked their parts better than in this movie, all the way down to the scruffy shepherds. Never have I seen Joseph represented with such faithfulness to the emotions he must have been feeling at the news of Mary's pregnancy. Even the treatment of Herod as a sinewy schemer rather than an obese oaf has something to commend it.

Yet, in the climatic scene, the movie resembles not so much a faithful retelling of the biblical account as a video representation of a home nativity scene one might purchase at Wal Mart. At the manger we find Joseph, Mary, and the infant Christ, surrounded by the shepherds, sheep, camels, and three wise men. Even the Magi carry the names tradition has assigned to them. Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, the identifications of the Magi derived from an early sixth Century Greek manuscript in Alexandria, arrive on the scene at approximately the same time as the shepherds, giving a nod to Christmas lore rather than biblical or historical scholarship.

Yet, despite the historical and artistic liberties, The Nativity Story is a reverent and moving film to be enjoyed as part of one's Christmas celebration. Some reviewers have carped that in preaching to the choir, the director has only succeeded in putting the choir to sleep. An Academy Award nominee it "ain't," but if you have been touched by the actual story of the incarnation, you will probably walk away blessed and a little misty eyed in the process of seeing it retold on the big screen.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Happy Thanksgiving to all readers of His Barking Dog! Our provident Lord has given us another year of opportunities and blessings. We owe him our all.

I'm off Friday to the second of three wedding receptions for my daughter who recently wed in Illinois. That, several preaching and teaching assignments, and an unusually heavy load at work have kept me from blogging much.

I have noticed, however, that my "urge to purge" has diminished considerably since the separation from the ABCUSA on November 1. Unlike some of the SBC ex-pats who still devote more internet time to blogging about their former denomination than they do discussing the ABC (and even after some of them have logged more than a decade and a number of high level elective and appointive positions in the ABC!), my current energy for engagement has dropped to a pretty low level. Hey, my last blog even contained a compliment for Dr. Medley!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hamblin Named "Activing ABCUSA Treasurer" to Replace Wade - Three Cheers Dr. Medley!

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/15/06)-The Rev. Dr. Lloyd D. Hamblin, budget review officer for American Baptist Churches USA, has been named to serve as acting ABCUSA treasurer and associate general secretary for finance. Hamblin's selection was announced today by General Secretary the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley following affirmation by the ABCUSA General Board Executive Committee at its meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Hamblin, who will begin in his new responsibilities Jan. 1, 2007, will relinquish his position as budget review officer. He will assume the financial leadership responsibilities currently held by the Rev. Dr. Cheryl H. Wade, who will be resigning Dec. 31 as treasurer and associate general secretary to become director of philanthropy for the Kendal Corporation.

When Cheryl Wade announced her resignation, I suggested that this was a signal opportunity for Dr. Medley to appoint a solid conservative to the post. Lloyd Hamblin, one time Executive Minister in West Virginia, certainly fits that descriptor. Lloyd is known for his integrity, financial acumen, and outspoken evangelicalism. A few more selections like this one and Medley may have a chance to keep the other conservative regions in the fold after the departure of Transformation Ministries (aka ABCPSW).

This was an EXCELLENT choice, Dr. Medley. "Ya done good."

Monday, November 13, 2006

God bless you Mr. and Mrs. Cory Hooley!

The quiet on the blog front was not due to an absence of thoughts, news, or opinions. Rather it relates to my whirlwind of activity at the wedding of my older daughter (3 out of 5 kids).

From the glorious wedding service (full of worship, praise songs, hymns, touching sentiment, and even a pony drawn cart transporting my grandsons and the grandchildren of the groom's father and mother down the aisle of the church as flower girl, ring bearer, and pony escorts) to the wondrous reception at the Jacob Henry Mansion Grand Victorian Ballroom, it was a wedding to remember.

My heart nearly broke as my son-in-law said to my daughter in the vows: "You were my first kiss and you will be my last." She responded by saying: "I have protected my purity and saved myself for you as my gift of love to you." My sermon was a full length exposition of Isaiah 43:1-4 (no surprise) with applications to the marriage relationship as a reflection of God's covenant love for us. The parents and mentors of the bride and groom were asked to come forward and pray for the couple during the ceremony. Many tears were shed then too.

The only really original piece in the ceremony (besides the pony during the procession - hey the groom's family are all horse people) happened at the end. After pronouncing them, I took the Bible that I had preached from, and told my daughter something like this . . .

Holding up the Bible in my hand, I reminded my daughter and son-in-law that "this book is a love letter from God to us. It records his love for us and his desire to redeem us for himself, entering into a covenant of relationship with us for eternity. In the Old Testament he calls us by his covenant "married name" Yahweh. In the New Testament he rescues us for himself and gives us a new name. Sarah when you committed your life to the Lord many years ago, he gave you a new name as a mark of your covenant of relationship. One day the book of Revelation tells us God will whisper your new name to you in glory. Now, today, Sarah, you are receiving a new name again because of your covenant with this good and Godly man, Cory. On behalf of your mother and me, I want to present to you this Bible from which I preached your wedding sermon imprinted with your new name, 'Sarah Hooley.'" Both the bride and groom wept. By the way, so did I.

One of the 275 guests was a non-Christian uncle of the groom. He wept throughout the ceremony and told the father of the groom that he had never been to a wedding like this. He said it felt as if God were present.

He was. Soli Deo Gloria! God bless you Mr. and Mrs. Cory Hooley.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Overseer Board Finds Haggard Guilty of Sexually Immoral Conduct; Haggard Dismissed as Pastor

According to a press release on the New Life Church website (, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, a group of external pastors who agreed to act as accountability partners for the independent congregation, found Ted Haggard guilty of "sexually immoral conduct," believing it to be proven "without a doubt." Here is what they said:

We, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, have concluded our deliberations concerning the moral failings of Pastor Ted Haggard. Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.

The language of our church bylaws state that as Overseers we must decide in cases where the Senior Pastor has “demonstrated immoral conduct” whether we must “remove the pastor from his position or to discipline him in any way they deem necessary.”

In consultation with leading evangelicals and experts familiar with the type of behavior Pastor Haggard has demonstrated, we have decided that the most positive and productive direction for our church is his dismissal and removal. In addition, the Overseers will continue to explore the depth of Pastor Haggard’s offense so that a plan of healing and restoration can begin.

Pastor Haggard and his wife have been informed of this decision. They have agreed as well that he should be dismissed and that a new pastor for New Life Church should be selected according to the rules of replacement in the bylaws.

That process will begin immediately in hopes that a new pastor can be confirmed by the end of the year 2006. In the interim, Ross Parsley will function as the leader of the church with full support of the Overseers.

A letter of explanation and apology by Pastor Haggard as well as a word of encouragement from Gayle Haggard will be read in the 9:00 and 11:00 service of New Life Church.

Those of us in the evangelical wing of the church can only mourn this latest revelation of misconduct. Not only must we all recognize our own proneness to even the grossest sin, but we must redouble our efforts to protect ourselves through vigilant availing ourselves of the manifold means of grace our loving Lord has given us for resisting sin. Rev. Haggard, his wife and children, the New Life congregation and his accuser all stand in the need of prayer . . . as do we all!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

NAE's Haggard Steps Aside Amid Accusations of Long Term Affair with Male Escort

The Rocky Mountain News reported VERY sad news Thursday. National Association of Evangelicals' President and senior pastor of mega church New Life Church, Rev. Ted Haggard, stepped down from his official positions pending an investigation of allegations that he engaged in a long-term affair with a former gay male escort. Here is the report in the Rocky Mountain News . . .

By Rocky Mountain News November 2, 2006

COLORADO SPRINGS — The Rev. Ted Haggard stepped aside as senior pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church and resigned today as president of the National Association of Evangelicals amid allegations by a former gay male escort that the two had a three-year sexual relationship.

The church issued a statement saying Haggard "could not continue to minister under the cloud created by the accusations made on Denver talk radio this morning." Haggard has said that the escort is lying.

The statement said he placed himself on administrative leave pending investigation, spiritual counsel, and a decision by the church’s board of overseers, which consists of four senior pastors of other congregations.

"I am voluntarily stepping aside from leadership so that the overseer process can be allowed to proceed with integrity," Haggard said in a statement.

The former escort made the allegations in a radio talk show. The accuser claimed that he was paid money by Haggard, who he says made nearly monthly trips to Denver for sexual liaisons, that he has recorded voicemails and a letter from Haggard, and that he had also witnessed Haggard use methamphetamine.

Haggard denied ever engaging in a gay relationship in his life. "I’ve never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I’m steady with my wife. I’m faithful to my wife."

Christianity Today cited Dr. James Dobson as among those outraged at the reporting of what he sees as a baseless rumor. "It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man’s accusation," said James Dobson of Focus on the Family, headquartered in Colorado Springs. "Ted Haggard is a friend of mine and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday’s election—especially the vote on Colorado’s marriage-protection amendment—which Ted strongly supports."

Evangelicals are sadly not immune to sin, even gross sin. But acts of hypocrisy strike at the core of public confidence. We can only pray that the accusations against Rev. Haggard prove untrue. And, Rev. Haggard, his wife, and five children all stand in need of all of our prayers in these painful days of testing.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

ABC Experiences Three Earthquakes in One Day

November 1 has recorded a number of important events in history. Pompey was buried by an erupting Vesuvius, the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were first exhibited, human devised fusion occurred for the first time, and the European Union came into existence. But, for ABC-types, November 1 records two very contradictory kinds of departures, one on the right and two on the left.

Today, November 1, was the deadline given by the PSW regional board for a full, formal, and final separation from the ABCUSA. The aftershocks of the departure by the large and predominately traditional region will continue to reverberate for years to come.

But, losses on the right were not the only changes happening in the ABC today. Progressive leaders Margaret Cowden and Cheryl Wade announced their intentions to leave the employment of Valley Forge.

Dr. Margaret Ann Cowden, leaves after close to 30 years of ministry with American Baptist Churches USA, including National Ministries’ treasurer and chief financial officer. She plans to retire July 2007. Cowden completed programs at Columbia University’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management in New York City and Harvard University’s Program for Management Development at its Graduate School of Business in Cambridge, Mass. Along with a Ph.D. in psychological studies from Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa., Cowden earned a master of divinity degree from American Baptist Seminary of the West, Covina, Calif., and a bachelor of arts degree from Linfield College, McMinnville, Ore.

Cowden, a strong voice for progressive causes, feminist advocacy, and justice issues, was a classmate of Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins, III, at ABSW when it had a Covina campus. “I do not know of a more committed, competent, and compassionate servant of Jesus Christ and this denomination than Dr. Cowden,” says Wright-Riggins about his colleague and former classmate.

In addition to her work in a variety of roles in MMBB, as president of the American Baptist Extension Corporation and at National Ministries, Cowden serves the denomination as a member of the General Executive Council, the Treasurer’s Council, the American Baptist Computer Center board of managers, and the board of the American Baptist Foundation. She also serves as a trustee of the Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School.

The second announcement of a departure from the left comes from the Office of the General Secretary. The Rev. Dr. Cheryl H. Wade, associate general secretary and treasurer of American Baptist Churches USA since January 1993, will resign those positions as of December 31, 2006, to become director of philanthropy for the Kendal Corporation and executive director of Kendal Charitable Funds.

Wade not only staffs the General Board Executive Committee and the Budget Review Committee, she serves on General Executive Council (the denomination's chief staff council) and its Executive Committee. She has also been noted for her singular efforts to help refocus the denomination's decision making process to "include significant time for 'Worshipful Work' and the pursuit of common ground and consensus."

As treasurer, Wade functions as chief financial officer for denomination, responsible for the collection, distribution and accounting for denomination-wide giving, is responsible for the operation of the American Baptist Churches USA Mission Center in Valley Forge, Pa., and chairs both the Building Management Council for that property and the Treasurers' Council at the national offices.

I have worked alongside Drs. Cowden and Wade in many denominational settings and have respected and been friendly with both of them. They are exceedingly intelligent, committed, sincere, and powerful persons. Both know how to be tough and tender; one would not want to stand up to either of them ill prepared or meet either of them in an alley unarmed.

Because of the key roles played by Margaret and Cheryl over several decades, they have had a greater opportunity to help shape the corporate culture of ABC and promote a specific agenda than all but a few other leaders. Whether you approve or disapprove of "Valley Forge," many of your opinions will depend upon what you think of the progressive agenda of Drs. Wade and Cowden.

Regular readers of His Barking Dog will remember the General Executive Council (aka GEC) as the power center at the heart of many of the debates in the ABC over the past several years. Contentious arguments over homosexuality, denominational structure, the new Budget Covenant, and more were all discussed, argued over, and processed in the GEC. And, Dr. Wade's signature quest of "consensus" often explained the outcomes of GEC meetings.

Their departures will leave gaping holes in the machine. Both Roy and Aidsand will have signal opportunities to further the alienation that resulted in the loss of the southwest or appoint evangelicals able to help reassure traditionalists in the constituency.

November 1, 2006 brings with it one loss on the right and two on the left. What Roy and Ace do next will help determine how many more losses and how many more Novembers remain.

[His Barking Dog was home working on a sermon for his daughter's wedding next week when news came about Drs. Cowden and Wade. Today's barking emerges from my own doghouse alone and is unrelated to the rest of the kennel in the southwest.]

Church Head Doubts Jesus is Only Way? Mainline Does Not Mean Mainstream

Later this weekend the Episcopalians will officially install their first female presiding bishop
( While this would in itself represent a signal newsworthy event, some of her beliefs, as reported in an AP interview today ( raise eyebrows and remind readers of His Barking Dog why the mainline has become the sideline and is well on the path of becoming a flatline.

Evidently Bishop Katharine Jeferts-Schori said to the interviewer, "If we insist that we know the one way to God, we've put God in a very small box." The Bible declares that "in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." But Jefferts-Schori says she doesn't believe that "one person can have the fullness of truth in him or herself."Instead, she says, "Truth is, like God, more than any one person can encompass."

I guess this is the reason why a full eight Episcopal dioceses have asked Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who heads the world Anglican Communion, to put them under a leader other than Bishop Jefferts-Schori.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Press Reports on Transformation Ministries Split to Become Effective November 1

Today Glenn Layne blogged on the press response to the Transformation Ministries withdrawal from ABCUSA which becomes effective tomorrow ( The article, which originally appeared in an Inland Empire (aka the western part of San Bernardino County in CA), paper quotes pastors on the ABC side of the aisle (e.g., Joe DeRoulhac) and those with Transformation Ministries (formerly ABCPSW) or leaning toward Transformation Ministries (e.g., Tate Crenshaw and Joe Lutz). The article, seemingly objective and accurate, chronicles the change that becomes official tomorrow, November 1, 2006.

The challenge for Transformation Ministries will be to focus all of their attention on vision and gaining forward momentum. Conducting autopsies on what went wrong in the ABC will do nothing to concentrate attention around a compelling vision for ministry. Indeed, the temptation to look back, almost irresistible for some of us with more than 50 years in the organization, resembles the sad choice of Lot's wife, not the courageous faith of Father Abraham.

As a sentimental fellow, I watch in horror as former SBCers continue dissecting and obsessing on every intramural dispute within that denomination even a decade or two after leaving to join the ABC. They have already invited me to "shut up" now that Transformation Ministries has left ABCUSA. However, if their example teaches me anything, it would be that the grieving process can be protracted and the "letting go" can take more time than one might ever imagine (maybe more than a decade?).

One of my faithful readers, a theological giant who studied under Reicke, Cullmann, and Barth, has already lamented "What a dramatic change in the blogging landscape without God's Barking Dog." Hey, don't write me off yet! My blog will probably de-emphasize the old order of the ABC and move one with the exciting things God is already doing in Transformation Ministries. But, from time to time, whether as a way of exercising (or exorcising?) my grief or just to keep my friends on the left on their toes, you can count on some insider ABC news and analysis.

[As always, His Barking Dog does not respond well to the commands of his masters in the southwest to "heel." My compulsive chasing after ecclesiastical cars and yipping and yapping, however may be annoyingly my own impulse, but it is basically pretty harmless and always my own responsibility alone.]

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More on the Transformation Ministries Annual Meeting

On his blog, Glenn Layne did a good job of analyzing some of the "political" subtexts to the first Annual Meeting for Transformation Ministires (nee ABCPSW). For example, Ken Huthcherson, a dynamic African American mega church pastor from Seattle was selected as keynoter (according to Layne) to draw a line in the sand between TM and the old order.

Hutcherson has been EXTREMELY controversial in the northwest for going to war with Microsoft over homosexuality and for doing "in your face" celebrations of marriage. His presence was exactly the kind of speaker not "appropriate" for the exceedingly "PC" ABC but perfect for TM where celebrations of biblical authority, a traditional view of human sexuality, and evangelism are normative, not particularly controversial.

Also, on Saturday morning, a part of the program included short pieces by TM mega church pastors Tom Mercer (often ignored or put down by ABC leadership. After all there must be something wrong with anyone who grows a church from 200 to 6,000, don't you know? He must be doing something wrong or he would be small like everyone else) and Jim Carrington. Dr. Carrington is still remembered as the African American pastor from TM who precipitated a walk-out by nearly 200 AWAB supporters for comments he made in a sermon at the Richmond Biennial.

Don't misread my comment as indicating a negative cast to the meeting, quite the contrary. Unencumbered by the need to be careful not to offend people who take radically revisionistic interpretations, the meeting flowed like a celebration of Jesus Christ, biblical authority, concern for church health, support for one another, and everything evangelicals have missed in broader ABC life.

The selection of Alhambra FBC as the venue was also intentional. My home church is known for being one of the most ethnically diverse in the country. With 45% Asians (and simul translation into Mandarin on Sunday mornings), 30% Hispanic (with simul translation into Spanish), many African Americans, and the rest of us, FBC Alhambra provided exactly the kind of showcase for the kind of diversity TM wants to model. One Mexican pastor was overheard commenting to another that he felt as much at home in the TM meetings this year as he does in his own church.

It did not hurt that TM contracted with Atherton Baptist Homes across the street to provide food service for special meals. Accustomed to feeding large groups daily, the food was great and helped foster a good attitude during the conference. [In the interests of full disclosure, I am President of Atherton Baptist Homes ].

Salico also reiterated that we are not a "parachurch" organization (contrary to what some official voices in the ABC have been saying recently as a slander against TM), but are a group of BAPTIST churches desiring to ASSOCIATE together so that we may change our world for Jesus Christ.

My informal conversations with BIM's Stan Slade were very constructive and encouraging for future possibilities of partnership. He made it clear that BIM wants to continue relating to TM and assisting our mission boards in funneling money through their Go Global efforts. Similarly, Northern Seminary seems anxious to partner with TM in the area of theological education. Of all of the ABC related schools, Northern probably comes closest to aiming at the same target as TM.

For friends around the country, uncertain about the fearful world of withdrawing from ABC, well . . . it may not be for everybody, but . . . come on in, the water's fine.

[His Barking Dog loves his friends throughout the ABC, but welcomes the opportunity to quit chasing ABC cars and barking over secondary issues. Nevertheless, the opinions are mine alone, not to be confused with any of the people outside my doghouse.]

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Transformation Ministries: "It Feels Just Like Independence Day!"

On Saturday morning, Transformation Ministries (nee ABCPSW) ended its first Annual Meeting on a high note. After some rather precise challenges of proposed by-laws changes by an attorney, the meetings moved toward a high emotional conclusion.

Atherton Baptist Homes' resident and double amputee Bob Shepherd belted out one his strongest efforts in years, delivering his own rendition of "My Tribute." His virtuosity, particularly seen through the lens of his own recent surgeries and hard times, left hardly a dry eye in thehouse.

Dr. Salico concluded the morning with a Bible study on associationalism in the New Testament. Reinforcing his point about the heresy of absolute congregationl autonomy, Salico found at least four examples of associations of churches in the New Testament. He ended his discussion with the Lycus Valley Association of congregations referenced in Rev. 23.

Followingg Salico's study and a brief worship time, multi-colored streamers were fired into the air in the worship center. One pastor leaned over to me, with excitement in his voice, and said: "It feels just like Independence Day [fortransformationn Ministries]!"

During the morning His Barking Dog enjoyed a good conversation with Dr. Stan Slade of the Board of International Ministries. I reiterated my belief that Dr. Trulson needs to move rapidly to secure relationships with TM pastors and executive staff. Stan reinforced the BIM position that they value partnership with TM and want to find ways to assist TM Baptists in continuing to support BIM missions efforts around the world. A couple of TM executive staff encouraged Stan to have BIM schedule a meeting of pastors in TM, either at a local church venue or at centrally located Atherton Baptist Homes. One staff member echoed the words Durable Data and I have been using in recent days: "The window of opportunity for BIM is narrow and it is closing rapidly."

Slade was not the only ABC related representative present at the Annual Meeting. Northern Seminary, Judson College, the American Baptist Theological Center, Christian Community Credit Union, Robins' Nest Ministries, MMBB, andAthertonn Baptist Homes were just a few of the exhibitors present.

Capturing the impact and the mood of the meeting can be done simply and succinctly. As Durable Data has already opined, selection of the controversial African American Ken Hutcherson as the keynoter had the effect of drawing a line in the sand, symbolically separating the emerging TM from the old order.

The gathering, with much higher attendance than any recent Annual Meeting, was ethnically diverse, enthusiastic, anticipatory, and celebratory. African American Bob Shepherd's moving testimony in song and humble Dr. Salico's passionate teaching seemed to capture the flavor of the event. Indeed, as the one pastor said, "It feels just like Independence Day!

[His Barking Dog has now become an official part of the TM board of directors. That may compromise my outsider role. However, we have not had any board meetings yet so my comments are still "kindof" unofficial and NOBODY ever accused me of being an official voice of anything ABC]

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Hutch" Exhorts "Unity without Compromise" and Salico Assails the "Heresy" of Absolute Autonomy

On the second day of the first Annual Meeting for the newly formed Transformation Ministries, standing room only conferees heard keynote speaker Ken Huthcherson call for “unity without compromise” and exhort listeners to take church discipline seriously. Employing the incident of Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree he explained that to advertise the wares without the fruit was the basis for Christ’s condemnation.

Applying the text to today, he reminded the church leaders that if you have the trappings of religion such as congregations, organization, infra-structure and the like, you better deliver the goods as well. One listener told me that he saw the application as being one comparing the ABC to the barren fig tree cursed by God and reminding those of us in TM of the danger of following this fruitless pattern.

In the afternoon, Dr. Dale Salico, preached on 1 Peter 2:4-7. He asked who is the “living stone” and who are the “living stones” mentioned in the text. Contrary to his former understanding of this text, he found that Peter refers to the churches in the area, not to the individuals in the congregation. A proper understanding of the text assails the “heresy of the utter independence and absolute autonomy of the local church,” Salico declared.

According to the executive of Transformation Ministries, an over emphasis upon congregational autonomy is wrong because . . .
* It is contrary to the clear teaching of the Bible
* It debilitates the church’s mission
* It destroys pastors

In illustration of the final point, he screened a video clip from the movie Spider Man where the discouraged hero discards his outfit and abandons his mission. He encouraged those who were feeling like Spider Man to take comfort from 1 Peter 2:4-7 and to “come and let yourself be placed in the building among other churches as a spiritual house.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Transformation Ministries Starts Off on a High Note

Transformation Ministries' Annual Meeting began on a high note today with Dr. Ken Hutcherson speaking at the evening gathering. Check out "Durable Data's" eye witness account: Note Glenn's first hand report of an unintended high point in the evening.

When Executive Minister Dr. Dale Salico arose to welcome delegates and to introduce Ken Hutcherson (whom he has known since 1986), he said, "Welcome to the first conference of Transformation Ministries!" Normally that would be a throw away line, but instead conferees rose to their feet and delivered a three-minute standing ovation. Dale was obviously moved, but as befits his normal exercise of class, he did not milk the moment and proceeded with his introductions.

I was in the balcony at the time and can vouch for Dr. Layne's version of the events. Please pray for spiritual blessing and organizational clarity during the coming two days. These are formative times for TM.

[His Barking Dog wagged his tail contentedly in the balcony during the evening meeting. My reports, however, still represent only my own thoughts and opinions.]

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Observations on One Proposed ABC Structure

In a prior blog I posted Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins III's "thinking out loud" piece on the future of ABC structure. It did not, however, include any evaluative commentary by me. My observations were posted to another forum where they were picked up by an actual member of the GEC. In an e-mail directed to me this afternoon, that person observed: "Maybe you've already touched on it many times on your blog site; but this is a HUGE issue for ABC-USA . . . You could not be any more correct." In light of those words of unsolicited support, I am reprinting my breezy message board response to another writer as follows:

My "take" was that he did not want to appear critical of Roy, so he excused Dr. Medley from blame in order to make his more substantive points. Does it hold water? No, not exactly. But, that is one of MY points. In a system with such diversity of values and deep core convictions, "processing" ourselves to death under PC rules will only ensure a lowest common denominator denomination. The outcome will be unsatisfying to both left and right.

[Person's name], you predicted that the "Shared Table" had a virtual lock on acceptance because it had at least 21 votes lined up before the meeting. Yet, a single progressive EM reportedly threw a tantrum at the GEC and the proposal was "tabled." In a system where everyone "has" to "get along" with everyone else, don't expect winning ideas to receive winning support. Rather, the consensus outcome can be counted upon to produce a result as unworkable in practice as it will prove frustrating to just about everyone. As long as members of the GEC are more concerned about the internal dynamics of their group than they are the future of the denomination, expect such relationally driven factors to continue yielding gridlock or paralysis.

The burden of my evaluation has to do with internal process dynamics inherent in the ABC structures. The theological diversity experienced by participants can only be managed by elaborate and somewhat Byzantine mechanisms placing more emphasis upon not "offending" and "getting along" than upon forward progress. As long as this corporate culture predominates, expect to see a continuation of the mission giving numbers cited in my previous post.

[His Barking Dog professes no special skill set beyond barking and chasing ecclesiastical cars passing by. My noises are strictly due to my own mangy nature and not to be attributed to any of my masters in the southwest.]

United Mission Giving Trends Reported by Valley Forge

What are the giving trends in the ABCUSA?

In the category of United Mission . . .

2003 - $19,746,000
2004 - $18,267,000
2005 - $16,925,000
2006 - $14,648,000 (Valley Forge projections)

The complete spreadsheet was even more interesting.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Preview of Things to Come? Reflections on ABC Structure by an Insider (Dr. Wright-Riggins III)

Several readers of His Barking Dog have requested information on the specific shape of the proposals being massaged into a final work product by the committee deputized with the assignment by the General Executive Council of the ABC. With insiders such as Drs. Medley, Wright-Riggins, Trulson, and Woods attempting to distill a consensus product from the five structural ideas presented at the most recent GEC meeting, one would expect a somewhat conventional shape to the solution.

In the interests of wider discussion among American Baptists, the following preliminary draft by Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III, one of the two principal documents reportedly under consideration, has been reprinted below for your consideration. Note that Dr. Wright-Riggins III sees this as a prelimary, tentative, and provisional piece of out-loud thinking. It should be read in that light.

The ABNS has already reported "The GEC named a transition writing team to continue to develop these elements, charging them with the following responsibilities: Continue to refine and build upon the key elements that contained the greatest level of support. Gather feedback on these elements from the General Board and others. Cast an eye and ear toward prophetic voices that can help the denomination to adopt a structure more appropriate for the 21st century. Shed unnecessary components in order to create the new future.

Transition writing team members are: Michaele Birdsall, Sarah Hallstrand, Desmond Hoffmeister, James McJunkin, Jr., Roy Medley, Larry Swain, Reid Trulson, Aidsand Wright-Riggins" (emphasis mine)

Since you, dear readers, are certainly part of the "others," please forward your insights and input on ABC structure to the transition writing team members in the best Baptist fashion!

"THINKING OUT LOUD" with Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III
REFLECTIONS on leadership, Structure, representative process and mission in the ABC USA

Assumptions- Biases- Affirmations

A. American Baptists at the regional and national level are experiencing a number of systemic frustrations:

(1) Financial - There has not been enough money coming into the regional and national and general pools to sustain the level of ministry and mission that we are accustomed to or would like to aspire to. The reasons for this are many and varied. They range all the way from the graying and shrinking pool of traditional Euro-American givers, to the growth of people of color groups with a radically different understanding of mission and denominationalism that are not primarily financial but familial; from an increasing localism to the practice of punitive stewardship; from the collapse of the concept of United Mission to the desire of a new generation to target and specify their giving. There is no one answer to the decline in the resources available to us. There are a whole lot of reasons behind the decline in United Mission giving.

(2) Strategic - We have yet to determine how to do strategic thinking and planning in a denomination such as ours. The "Seek It" process, a process where NM, IM, MMBB and the Office of the General Secretary invested considerable staff time and thousands of dollars to create a "denominational vision" and to identify Key Ministry Areas was immensely helpful at the national level and is still gaining legs.

Nevertheless our current attempts to more closely align the General Board and OGS to NM, IM and perhaps MMBB to address how we link all of that with Regions, Institutions, AMO's and local churches, still lacks congruency. We are not yet talking about the same thing when we say "the denomination," "ABC" or "we." From my perspective, Regions think strategically. National boards (NM, IM and MMBB) think strategically. The General Board wants to think strategically but struggles to do so as it has not yet carved out its essential mission as distinct from other entities.

(3) Paralysis - How "we" have dealt with or not dealt with homosexuality has driven a wedge into the heart of our denominational family that is impairing our ability to do and be in mission. We clearly hear Jesus asking us, "Do you want to be well?" In our saner and more sober moments, we confess to him, "Lord, we don't know how to be well."

B. All ABC related missional and administrative units must demonstrate that they are worthy of constituent support. We should not place unnecessary constraints on those units from seeking that support.

C. All ABC related missional and administrative corporate entities have the right and responsibility to be governed and managed without interlocking board structures.

D. Where we are (financially, strategically, and missionally), is not the fault of the Office of the General Secretary. OGS (personally, it is more helpful for me to think of it as the Office of the General Board) is a victim of the denomination's failure to fully implement SCOR and SCODS, a victim of the historical recalcitrance and obstinacy of the Home and Foreign Mission Societies and far too many regions for a denomination of our size from the mid 70's going forward, a victim of having poorly opted to tie its financial fate to United Mission forever and to the San Diego, GEC Budget Covenant. Moreover, OGS (the General Board) is the singular entity in our denominational family perceived to be or charged with implementing every last one of our myriad policy statements, resolutions and declarations. However, over the course of the last 50 years, the General Board itself has actually self initiated less than two such statements per decade.

E. An important reason we are in our present state is that SCODS attempted to overlay a hierarchical structure on a free church polity. Baptists don't respond well to command and control. It was just a matter of time before Baptists of various theological strips began to feel that the current system is just to "tight."

F. The "Center" or "passionate core" of ABC USA is mission and fellowship; mission on the local church doorstep, mission within regions, mission among regions, mission nationally and mission internationally and fellowship as an expression of our oneness in Jesus Christ. We need each other in order to hear and be the voice of Jesus Christ.

G. We exist in an increasingly post denominational cultural context. It will become more and more difficult for any missional entity to assume loyalty from individuals and from local churches simply because those individuals and those churches share a common history and heritage with larger (regional /national/international) entities.

H. Racial, ethnic and theological diversity has been the "family gift" by which God has blessed the ABC for the last century.

I. One of the greatest challenges to the American Baptist family is how we manage our diversity going forward.

J. The cutting edge of ABC USA growth (but not necessarily financial growth) will be determined by how well we work with and incorporate long standing people of color populations into representation and leadership (African Americans, Asians and Hispanics in particular); how well we reach out to immigrant groups, women, and theological moderates and progressives; and how well we reaffirm the critical and perhaps special role clergy play in our fellowship. We are morphing from a missionally "sending" denomination to a missionally "engaged" denomination where except for the economically elite (across racial ethnic classifications), and Euro-American constituents in general, mission is increasingly being defined from a familial perspective and much more locally.

(1) It would be helpful that as we "determine the mind of Christ on issues of importance" that we no longer refer to them as 'Policy Statements." "Policy Statements" implies that someone or something has the ability to enforce them. Perhaps we should refer to them as Social Statements or Public Witness Statements. With these Public Witness Statements should come a higher threshold for adopting them as truly representative of the "mind" of the denomination on a particular issue.

(2) Determine that our Public Witness Statements are simply a determination of the "Sense of the Body" at a particular time and place in our history with the matter discussed and debated at the "General Board level" being non-binding on national, regional or local expressions of ABC USA. Nothing can be imposed on the local church or by other churches or assemblies of churches. Each church has this liberty to find the mind of Christ.

(3) Task an entity to review existing policy statements and resolutions for their contemporary relevance.

Mission Boards
I start with the assumption that there will be national mission boards and that National Ministries and International Ministries are American Baptist entities. Both need governance structures that are as representative of as possible, while the ABC/USA may be more in need of a representative process with few governance functions.

The mission boards (IM and NM) could have as many as 30 board members, selected with an eye to skill, multicultural, gender and lay/clergy balance ( I would further propose that all members of these boards be members of American Baptist churches). These boards, as all other boards do, would determine length of terms, selection process, etc, in order to serve the needs of the program/mission. The would recruit individuals They would probably meet twice a year, fully responsibly for the board expenses of their board, not funded out of a "representative process." Language should be written into the By-Laws guaranteeing perpetual relationship with the larger denominational ABC family. I am sure that there are attorneys who could draft appropriate language and terms.

Two members of the mission board shall be a Regional Executive Minister or other regional staff, nominated by and elected by the respective mission board. As many as 10 members of the 30 person mission board would be elected to the mission board from a larger pool of candidates maintained and nominated by the "General Board" of ABC USA. In my view, an important role of the "General Board" in the life of the denomination would be to create and maintain a "leadership" data base of persons from which a variety of ABC related institutions could call on for board service.

Some of the persons elected to the mission boards from this pool, may or may not serve concurrently with both a mission board and what I will refer to later as the "Board of General Ministries."

The "directors" of the mission boards would also serve as its "members," if membership is deemed to be important or essential.

General Board/board of general ministries

A leaner yet optimally highly representative General Board (needs a new name, so I am suggesting here for example purposes only, "board of general ministries" needs to be created. I propose that it be made up of:

(1) Up to 42 persons, nominated at the regional level and elected to the Board of general ministries. Regions shall be geographical entities and churches may freely choose to belong to any region(s) they choose. I am proposing that regions be geographical rather than affinity based. Otherwise, there would be no end to the spectrum of affinity groups. Nevertheless, a church located in one geographical area may have a greater affinity with those in another area. Each region shall be entitled to one (1) board of General ministries representative. If a region exceeds a yet to be determined threshold, perhaps related to number of churches, number of resident members or amount contributed to the board of general ministries, that region may be eligible for as many as two (2) Board of general ministries representatives.

(2) 10 persons, (4 from among the directors of NM, 4 from among the directors of IM and 2 from among the directors of MMBB shall be nominated for election to the Board of general ministries.

(3) 6 to 8 persons from among the recognized ABC Caucuses
-10 persons from among networks like colleges and seminaries, ABHAA, ABWM, ABMen, ABHS, Ministers Council, ABEC, ABF, Green Lake, etc.

(4) 8-10 at-large members to help assure greater diversity than previous categories will provide.

Initially, each region may need to nominate four or five potential representatives to the board of general ministries in order to have a pool large enough to draw from to guarantee national creative diversity.

The Board of general ministries would probably meet once a year, funded by a rep process that is not separate from the total budget of the board of general ministries, perhaps with a meeting of the mission boards attached, which would mean that the rep process would cover the costs of travel, with other expenses unique to the mission board time picked up by the mission board. This would create a Board of general ministries somewhere around 80 people.

General Board Purpose

The function of the board of general ministries is simply to carry out the purpose statement of ABC USA:


"American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., as a manifestation of the church universal, bears witness to God's intention to bring redemption and wholeness to all creation. American Baptists believe that God's intention can be sought and followed in local congregations and other gatherings of Christians and in associational, regional, national and world bodies as they receive from one another mutual counsel and correction. Since Jesus Christ is the head of the church, each body of Christians, seeking to order its life in accordance with the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has a proper responsibility under God for maintaining its life of worship, witness, and ministry.

In every area of their common life, American Baptists, acknowledging the importance of creative diversity, seek such a balance of freedom and order as will keep all parts of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and at the same time enable them to work responsibly to carry out the common task of mission and ministry in our time."

As I reflect on this purpose statement, it seems to me that the board of general ministries would function to:

(A) Bear witness to the American Baptist expression of what it mens to be a part of the church universal.
(B) Call all parts of the ABC to bear witness to GodÂ’s intention to bring redemption and wholeness to all creation.
(C) Attend to matters of our common life.
(D) Affirm the integrity and dignity of each component of the family, whether that component be local, associational, regional, national, or international,- as a valid expression of the church, and facilitates opportunities for mutual counsel and correction among those bodies.
(E) Acknowledge our creative diversity helping the partners to better use it.
(F) Attend to keeping all parts of the family together to carry out the common task and mission and ministry in our time.
(G) Provide opportunities for the family to become open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
(H) Prompting and challenging us to working together responsibly.


Board of General Ministries
If the board of general ministries is the shared table where our varied and sundry local, regional, national and international missions and ministries come together to fulfill a common task, it is worth of being funded. In a former time in our history it made sense for that funding to come through United Mission dollars. If we are committed to a common denominational task of mission and ministry, we will need to find a way to fund our "general ministry" going forward. I propose that we do so with some form of annual proportional assessment on covenanting ministry partners, and a fee from AMO's set aside to benefit the mutual ministry of the board of general ministries. In my view, the board of general ministries is not a party to the Covenant. Instead it is the one place in our denominational life where all the covenanting and associated partners come together for mutual ministry. The board of general ministries is the repository or "keeper" of the Covenants made between the partners.

Regions and National Mission Boards
If the board of general ministries is taken out of the current (United Mission) funding equation, and receives an assessment from regional and national partners, then the formula of the distribution of United Mission funds toward regional, national and international mission work will need to be reexamined.

Scope of the board of general ministries' work
The board of general ministries is not primarily a legislative or policy making body. Instead, as a "worshipful/working" body, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it exists primarily to encourage and enable covenanting ministry partners to serve cooperatively, collegially and responsibly to carry out the common task of mission and ministry in our time. Critical functions of the board of general ministries are:

+ Vision and Leadership around mutual ministry endeavors
+ Representative Process
+ Networking with Regions and Mission Boards
+ The Voice and Symbol of the ABC Family (Internally and Externally)
+ Communication and Development Support
+ Stewardship of American Baptist Tradition
+ Administrative Support for the Organizational Purposes (Internal and External)
+ Encouraging Unity

(1) The board of general ministries is responsible for calling a General Minister (formerly known as the General Secretary) whose role it is to specifically staff the board of general ministries with employees according to the prioritized organizational purposes of the Board and within the annual budget of the Board.

(2) Covenanting parties, at both the regional and national levels of denominational life, as well as those AMO's that contribute to the financial under girding of the board of general ministries (Just a thought here. I am more concerned about representation of these groups at the table than I am in financial contribution. Their value added is often at the local level as we drive down to congregational life) shall serve as secunded non-employed staff to the board of general ministries through the executive staff leadership council (ESLC) which replaces the GEC. The primary business of the executive staff leadership council is to support and assist the General Minister in fulfillment of his or her duties to the board of general ministries as listed above. As an associate general minister for abc usa (This replaces terms such as National and Regional Secretary), each member of the executive staff leadership council shall play a role on a committee or task force of the ESLC around one of the "Critical Functions" listed above. A committee head in the ESLC might staff a corresponding such committee on the board of general ministries .

In this model, the Executive Staff Leadership Council intentionally serves as the key staff consultative and planning venue, in response to the vision and mission of the board of general ministries, around common mission endeavors, especially as they relate to the ABC Vision and identified Key Ministry Areas. The ESLC would seek to do together what the several missional entities can not do separately or independently. The General Minister would serve as the leader and facilitator of the ESLC At least 80 % of the time devoted to ESLC meetings should be time devoted to the critical functions of the denomination as a whole and the planning, relationship building, improving communications and training needed to make it so.

Each year, a quarter of the Associate General Ministers for ABC USA and the organizations they represent shall be evaluated through a 360 degree feedback process of his and her peers regarding the level of mutual ministry engagement, contributions made toward the whole, and degree of cooperation and collegiality. This feedback shall be communicated by the General Minister to the Associate General Minster and to the President of his or her board. I propose this as one way to develop a greater sense of "We" in ABC and as a way to hold us all accountable regarding the ABC USA purpose statement which reads, "American Baptists believe that God's intention can be sought and followed in local congregations and other gatherings of Christians and in associational, regional, national and world bodies as they receive from one another mutual counsel and correction." One of the difficulties in our covenantal system is how we keep each other accountable to each other, when covenant, rather than contract is the order of the day.

Thank you for taking this "thought flight" with me. I would appreciate any response or questions that you might have regarding what I have written. My habit at home and at the office is to think out loud with the people I care for and about so they can ask me, "Do you know what the heck you just said?" Sometimes, I am not sure what I really think until I simply say it out loud and have it challenged and refined by other minds besides my own. If what I said here is offensive or dismissive or threatening to anyone, please charge it to my head and not my heart. In the end, I think that this whole enterprise must be about relationships rather than structure. Yet, our current structural dynamics and our dogged determination to define ourselves by where we stand on issues rather than how we flesh out the good news incarnationally in daily life is squeezing the soul out of our denomination. I want something better. I am working and praying towards that end.

With hope-
Aidsand III

[His Barking Dog found this thinking piece out back of the Valley Forge Hilton when I was rummaging for some scraps of food. Although arguably not as nourishing as the almost untouched 16 oz sirloin and twice baked potato found in the same trash can, this proposal gave me more than enough to chew on for the night. As always, my masters in the southwest had nothing to do with my rummaging any more than they do my yipping and yapping.]

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Restructuring the ABC from the Grassroots Up

A blue ribbon committee (including Drs. Medley, Woods, Wright-Riggins, and Trulson) has been tasked with taking the disparate proposals for ABC restructuring and cobble them into a single plan. But, now comes news that another region, the ABC of Ohio in this instance, just this weekend narrowly adopted rule changes to permit congregations to affiliate with the region and not the ABCUSA. This follows a similar move a couple of weeks ago in Indiana-Kentucky. Readers may remember that Transformation Ministries, then the ABCPSW, adopted this same kind of proposal a few years ago. What should we make of this grassroots approach to altering ABC relationships?

Leadership typically represents these by-laws changes as a pressure valve to allow dissonance within the system without forcing withdrawal from the "family" entirely. In reality, however, this kind of loosening of the ties that bind us in covenantal relationships with the national body often presages a more dramatic break from the denomination as a whole. In Transformation Ministries (aka ABCPSW), for example, rather than functioning as a pressure valve, the long term outcome was a complete withdrawal.

Here the analogy of marital discord might prove illuminating. The single greatest predictor of divorce is whether the couple elects to separate first as a "cooling off" strategy. Having survived the initial step toward complete separation, couples seem more likely to take the next step. Similarly, a region willing to strategize, codify, and vote on such provisions places itself significantly closer to a final decision to leave the ABC.

Will Indiana-Kentucky and Ohio follow the example of the southwest? We will know in a few years. Perhaps restructuring from the bottom up will eventually prove more significant than any plans that originate in the GEC.

[His Barking Dog jumped up to grab this news tidbit about the Ohio vote from colleague Dr. Art Jaggard. The analysis, however, should be blamed on my junk yard dog genes and not on any of my southwest masters].

Friday, October 13, 2006

Baptist Blogger Proposes Strategy for ABC Engagement

For some time I have been aware of the excellent blog by Dr. LewK ( His analysis, printed under the provocative title, "If We (Evangelicals) Stay," offers the beginnings of an action plan for evangelical engagement in a mainline denomination. See what you think . . .

There are still many evangelicals who don’t want to withdrawal from ABC. They still believe that there is a possibility for reformation. I don’t think so because for decades evangelicals have been (and I think still are) unwilling to do the things necessary to bring about reform, and without such willingness and follow through the options are only two: 1. Go 2. Stay.

If true reformation, renewal, or revival is to come to ABC, evangelicals need to be willing not only to post their 95 thesis on the internet, but be willing to act in concert in ways that will be excoriated by our liberal brothers and friends in places of power within the current structure.

The current denominational by-laws and rules are designed to keep evangelicals from gaining a majority in positions that can vote to bring change, while insuring that a liberal majority is almost always in ascendancy (since way back in 1968 I’ve been voting against the changes in denominational structure that have allowed this situation to occur).

With the design and layout of ABCUSA structures favoring the control of liberal leadership and blocking the resurgence of a majority evangelicalism at decision making levels, baptist evangelicals who have anything other than fantasy hopes for a return to biblical authority, need to take a new course.

If reformation is possible, it can come if (and it is a big “if”)evangelicals are willing to become “inside outsiders.” ABC evangelicals need to put their ministries and monies outside of denomination structures. For example: Evangelicals ought to form an independent version of BNM. Call it “Alternative North American Ministries in the churches of the ABC,” or some such nom de plume indicating it’s connected to the autonomous churches, but not with the denomination. Through it, commission evangelical missionaries under the direction of evangelical churches. Raise their mission support from the evangelical churches, and expend it outside of ABCUSA checkbooks. Over time it will grow to be the dominant national ministry group connected to ABC local churches.

Evangelicals should form a national Evangelical Pastors Council as an alternative to the Ministers’ Council that exists at this time. This new council would be open to evangelical pastors (youth workers and other ministry personnel) who are willing to sign, preach, and live by a biblical statement of faith. This would provide evangelical pastors (and through them their churches) a continuous voice to raise evangelical concerns to current denomination leadership representing the many evangelical pastors (“All for one, one for all.”), and help allieviate the leaning some churches have towards leaving the denomination.

Evangelicals, if they remain in ABC, need to keep the mission monies flowing, but not through United Mission. All giving that any evangelical churches do should be targeted and “specified” (SPC line on “Monthly Report Of Missions Support” form) to evangelical missionaries, ministries, and good works, that will carry on the good ABC Missions has done in the past, but in the exclusive context of a biblical message of salvation through Christ, and reform for individuals and society. Evangelicals need to be willing to begin a new unit, region, association, or committee whenever they find that an ABCUSA configuration does not represent evangelical thought and positions, and in the event there is intransigence to change in the national leadership’s approach to biblical ministry these alternatives could form the basis of an entirely new body of Baptist churches. posted by DrK

[His Barking Dog admits that it is probably too late for Baptists in the southwest. Transformation Ministires has already begun to establish completely separate structures from the ABC. However, for Baptists elsewhere in the denomination, Dr. K's proposal may gain traction. As always, my yips and yaps running behind Dr. Medley's ecclesiastical limo should not be blamed on any of my good masters at any entities in the southwest. They have already rolled up the Judson Press newspaper and are ready to say "bad dog, bad dog!" for my latest chasing of denominational cars.]

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

First Blush Reactions to Trulson Mostly Positive by Evangelical Leaders

What do we know about Dr. Trulson, newly named candidate to become Executive Director of the Board of International Ministries? Beyond what has already been blogged by Baptist Like Me ( and a few others, not much more is known that was not already disclosed in the ABNS press release.

We know that Dr. Trulson pastored the Underwood Memorial Baptist Church in Wisconsin during the 90s. We also know that Dr. Alan Newton was pastor of the congregation prior to becoming Executive Minister of Rochester. The church web page identifies it as affiliated with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Churches in the ABC and having a cutting edge justice emphasis. Multiple sources have suggested that the congregation has had more of a progressive (rather than evangelical flavor) for many years. Some have suggested that the AWAB association came after Truslson left the congregation. To this point, I have been unable to verify what Dr. Truslson's theological position is vis a vis AWAB. He did receive his final two theological degrees from Fuller Seminary in the 1970s.

The closest we can come at this point to an endorsement of his theological position by evangelicals can be found in some e-mail chatter between conservative leaders in the ABC.

Here are two representative pieces with the names of the senders and addressees removed:

Hi everyone,
I wanted to make sure you got this asap. Reid is a good friend and was the Director over Europe and middle east. He was also the #2 man in IM. I believe we will be able to work with him to the betterment of The Kingdom.
Blessings to you all

And, one more . . .

I am sure that you have already heard the news, but did not want to risk your not being in the loop and not hearing that the search committee has selected Reid Trulson as ExDirector of IM. I met with staff yesterday morning and released the news.

I will attach the new release to the IM board members. We feel confident that Reid has the steady hand that God will use to lead IM during this time of restructuring of ABC, etc.

The only responses of a negative sort that I have received are included as follows:

I left WI in 1992 but worked with Reid in the 80's when he was president of the Region. He was not the most wild-eyed liberal in the state but he was far enough left to make me look like a John Bircher/Bob Jones slave. In the W***** controversy he was fully supportive of W*****, even after it was revealed that W***** had decieved the Convention and was part of the group that attempted to keep W***** in his position in spite of what most of us saw as clearly homosexual behavior as well as deception

I asked open ended questions about Reid's theology in another Baptist forum: What was the position of Underwood on the progressive - traditional scale during Trulson's tenure? Friends have told me that Reid stands with evangelicals. Yet, he pastored a church that is now AWAB. Where does he fit? The answer came back: I can't say for sure - its always been a "progressive" place.

I have been unable to confirm how Reid related to the now AWAB congregation he once pastored. However, the words of evangelical leaders I trust are pretty encouraging while some of the people with experience in his region report some concerns.

[His Barking Dog has no opinion on the topic of the day since the paucity of data inclines me withhold judgment until more can be known. So, please don't read between the lines of my barking or attribute my views to the nice people in the southwest who are my masters. Already some of the neighbors have complained to them about my barking and it really isn't their fault. Barking dogs do that, don't you know?]