Sunday, April 30, 2006

Day After Analysis of the PSW Vote and Its Implications

After Action Analysis
By Dennis E. McFadden

Both Valley Forge and Covina put on a full court press to "get out the vote" for yesterday’s referendum on withdrawal from the ABCUSA. Dale Salico scheduled meetings in nearly a dozen geographical locations in the region. VF sent several letters (of both the "good cop" and the "bad cop" variety) and applied significant pressure to ethnic pastors. Additionally, Dr. Bob Roberts came to the PSW and spoke in a number of venues, including a full debate with the PSW executive minister, Dale Salico. Therefore, virtually the ONLY churches sitting out the vote were those so disconnected from PSW AND ABCUSA as to provide neither financial nor participation support.

So, if up to 50% of the congregations did not even cast a vote in the meetings yesterday, how will that impact the number of churches remaining with Valley Forge? Several factors complicate the answer:

1. Some congregations may elect to remain with the ABCUSA in a technical sense for various tactical reasons. (not the most honorable course, but a reality nonetheless). These churches will maintain an official affiliation with PSW and ABC. However, their "participation" in ABC could be in the $1 a year range.

2. Some congregations may require a separate vote to deal with the legal realities. Other churches took their congregational vote in such a way so that the church would follow the board’s decision on May 11. For example, some congregations have already voted to leave ABC iff the May 11 determination by the regional board goes that direction. For those congregations, the decision was already made.

3. Best guess at this point, the congregations represented by the 1,125 votes to withdraw will break with the ABCUSA, at least in a de facto way and most likely in a de jure manner as well. The congregations represented by the 209 votes will stay with the ABCUSA, although some of them have already indicated an intention to become dually aligned with the PSW (yes, that is what some of them said!).

4. By virtue of their disinclination to come to ANY of the seven geographically dispersed centers to vote (including Phoenix, the Indian reservations, San Diego, Santa Barbara, etc.), expect almost all of the non-voting churches to stay with the status quo: that is, they will remain ABC congregations. However, since virtually all of these congregations already fail to participate meaningfully (either financially or by attendance) in ANY ABC events, expect that this will not mean much to either PSW or to the ABC. The absence of their participation in many/most cases already indicates a disinclination to support VF (they have "withdrawn" from the ABC defacto for years).

5. I just learned tonight that two of the largest churches in the PSW (one with weekly attendance of nearly 3,000) did not send delegates because they saw the vote as anticlimatic. In their ministries, they had already written off the national association and did not feel it was meaningful to bother sending delegates to confirm that judgment. They each wrote letters to the region board indicating their strong support for Salico and the intention to participate in the post ABC organization. Certainly they will throw in their lot with the withdrawing PSW congregations.

My wife, herself an Associate Pastor of an ABC congregation, made a helpful observation. All of the 84% voting to withdraw did so for basically the same reason (i.e., perceived issues relating to biblical authority). But, of the 16% declining to withdraw at the present time, the reasons were quite varied. Jeanette's observation may be slightly overstated. Some of the votes from the left favored withdrawal, I am told, to be rid of the PSW and all of the controversy. However, on balance, it would seem that Jeanette's point was well taken. The vast majority of "yes" responses came from people professing concern over issues of biblical authority; the "no" expressions came from a wide variety of points of view.

Indeed, I personally know some of the negative votes came from persons quite opposed to VF but saying that it was not "the right time" tactically to withdraw. Some of them suggested that we should work in concert with other evangelical regions to accomplish common goals rather than leaving now. Others argued that it would hurt the evangelical cause to withdraw. Valley Forge would be wise not to interpret the 16% as strongly supportive of their position.

Remember that even if every possible delegate cast a ballot, and even if every non-participating congregation cast ALL of their votes in favor of remaining with the ABC, the vote to withdraw would have still carried by a substantial majority.

Frankly, the ones who should be concerned coming out of yesterday's vote would be national leadership and the much put-upon Dr. Chetti. His loyalty was certainly evident in being willing to shoulder the burden of watch care over so many inactive churches. Let's assume (IFF VF's numbers are accurate) that 50% of the congregations--spread geographically over two states + Hawaii--are so disengaged as to ignore voting in one of the seven dispersed centers. Now Sam Chetti is responsible for providing pastoral "watch care" for as many as 150 new churches, just about doubling his number of congregations.

Since they almost never come to regional or national meetings, are not able (or do not choose) to contribute financially to PSW or ABCUSA, and are often the smallest and most problem-ridden congregations, Sam will have a greatly increased work load with few compensatory benefits. Imagine trying to service the needs of congregations geographically dispersed from Arizona to central California, to the Mexican border in addition to your already full time job!

Only a handful of the "loyal ABC" congregations (e.g., Pasadena, Redlands, First Institutional Phoenix) contribute significantly to the region/national organization at all. And, even here, they hardly make a dent in the support provided by the very large number of ABC congregations with attendance over 250. By my count, only one congregation in that category is remaining with the ABCUSA. The three largest churches in the PSW (with an average weekend attendance of between 10,000 and 12,000 combined) all went solidly for withdrawal, one of them unanimously.

I have previous described yesterday's vote as feeling like a combination of a death in the family, a prodigal child, and a divorce (I'm guessing here) all rolled into one. Whichever "side" one takes in the dispute, yesterday was a painful day.

By way of analogy, how would you feel becoming pastor after a church split where virtually ALL of the active members left the church and you were "blessed" to inherit the inactive membership of non-attending non-givers as 90-95% of your parish? That is Sam Chetti's sad prospect.

On the other hand, the churches remaining with the ABCUSA will deprive PSW of many of their churches reflecting ethnic diversity in the region. Several of the most prominent pastors in Pomona today were African-American and Hispanic. Nevertheless, Dale Salico will lose much of the numerical strength of our ethically diverse congregations.

Writing as a conservative evangelical (truth in advertising), I cannot but feel loss at the fracturing of the common front with other regions (e.g., signatories to the Parchment Valley accord) and the loss of dialog with so many good friends on the left (many of them in the AWAB camp). They have enriched me in ways that cannot be adequately described. Nevertheless, as a delegate of my church and pursuant to my own conscience, I cast my ballot for withdrawal.

[His Barking Dog stills claims no ties to officials in PSW; my barking still from a very independent back yard.]


Joel said...

For what it's worth, HDC's congregational vote to leave the ABCUSA was also unanimous.


roy said...


At least in part, your wife's comment was inaccurate. Cambridge Drive Church had 2 "yes" votes among our delegates. This was in no way an endorsement of the PSW plan or theology but rather represented a number of members of the congregation who just want the controversy to end and frankly want to be rid of PSW. I know of at least one other church that sent a minority of their delegates to vote in the same fashion for similar reasons. There may have been others as well.
I'm sure these numbers represent a very small minority among the 84% but it does indicate that interpretation of the vote is not simple. At the same time I am sure that there were churches that sent some "no" votes that will be likely to go with PSW.
All in all, I believe it is a sad day.