Thursday, February 23, 2006

What Happens When Baptists Dress Up Like Bishops?

An Opinion Piece
By Dennis E. McFadden

Generally my posts migrate from His Barking Dog to various message boards. Today, however, a response to a pastor on a message board has become the substance of a posting here. The pastor was weighing in on the topic of role confusion among ABC judicatory officials. How, he pondered, could we have "judicatories" when our polity is not connectional nor authority-based? Here are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts on the subject . . .

In my work with (and observations of) the national and regional leadership over several decades, it has appeared that many of our "mid level judicatory" and "upper level judicatory" people, all the way up to the "General" himself, suffer from "purple envy." When they meet with their "peers" they tend to want to be one of the crowd. By the way, NEVER assume that a pastor is the peer of a denominational bureaucrat. After a couple of years in office, they begin to see each other and their corresponding members in other denominations as their true peerage. Compare Al Fletcher's strange change of heart from ABE board member to accepting the Cardinal Cajetan role at Augsburg as the one, along with Desmond Hoffmeister, designated to "deliver" VF's "message" to PSW to recant).

Hanging out with so many bishops and bishop wannabes, they begin to think that an episcopal purple insignia of authority is the appropriate color for their role. If you push them, they will tell you about the "unique unenforceables" of ABC life and about the supremacy of the congregation. But, in their day-to-day work with each other and with their "fellows" in other denominations, they are acculturated into an environment of hierarchicalism, top-down management, and the assumption that while all Baptists are equal, some Baptists are "more equal than others" (thanks Mr. Orwell).

The confusion of roles is endemic due to several factors:

* Baptists really ARE different in polity from most connectional denominations.

* We really don't know what to do with our differences in a world where books, seminars, management theory, etc. directed at "judicatory administration" assume a more connectional and centralized power structure.

* Human nature makes it very difficult to assume power without letting it go to your head. McFadden's Maxim: Where you stand has a lot to do with where you sit. Al Fletcher, for example, was a firebrand evangelical as a pastor. As an executive minister, however, he is a staunch defender of the national organization, the unofficial "voice" of the Parchment Valley accord, and the one sent by VF to plant a kiss on the cheek of Dale Salico in a meeting a few months back. The criticism by some of the lack of grass roots elements in the post-Lombard movement is predicated on this same kind of assessment (although I want to hang back and give Bill some time to define and defend himself before issuing judgments).

So, "confusion of roles" is exactly what we have and should expect to continue. Most mortals find it very difficult to be tasked with responsibilities while being denied the authority to go with the job. In some cases, it results in frustration and resignation. In other instances, the leader emulates the patterns common in organizations where responsibility comes with authority. Unfortunately for Baptists, this will inevitably lead to conflict and disputation.

In my opinion, the fight over homosexuality is partly due to genuine doctrinal differences over biblical authority. However, another aspect of the issue, often left undiscussed, traces to grassroots anger towards the inconstant imposition of ecclesiastical authority; sometimes on, sometimes off. Bemoaning the "unique unenforceables" of ABC life would not offend so greatly if it did not come from the same people acting quite bishop-like in conduct of their ministries in other areas.

[His Barking Dog does not even own anything colored purple, so don't confuse these musings with the official opinions of any entity in the PSW]

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