Saturday, April 29, 2006

PSW Congregations Vote Overwhelmingly (84%) to Withdraw from ABCUSA; Final Decision Rests with Regional Board on May 11 (REVISED posting)

Personal reflections by an eye-witness to the vote to recommend withdrawal from the ABCUSA.

By. Dennis E. McFadden

American Baptist Churches in the Pacific Southwest voted by an 84% majority today to advise the board to withdraw from the American Baptist Churches USA. In a meeting lasting little more than 45 minutes, Saturday, April 29, 2006, delegates from the PSW congregations cast their ballots on the single question: "Should the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest (ABCPSW) withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships and Agreements with the American Baptist Churches, USA, as recommended by the Board of Directors of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest?"

The single business before the meeting, the recommendation to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships in the ABCUSA was decided by a 1,125 to 209 majority. Now the board of managers of the region will take up the issue in a meeting slated for May 11. The recommendation from the board to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships came unanimously from the board at its December 2005 meeting.

By 10:00 A.M. the entire floor and much of the balcony of the spacious auditorium of FBC of Pomona was filled and waiting for the meeting, still 30 minutes hence, to begin. Delegates were checked in through a procedure insuring that only official representatives of the churches would be admitted. The congregation listened with interest as the six remote locations checked in for the live conference call, all run through the Pomona sound system.

The arcane rules of proportionality insured a certain measure of inevitable confusion. Some congregations 25 times larger than others had only twice the number of representatives accredited. And, while some congregations practiced a "winner take all" approach (e.g., the historic FBC of Pasadena which had voted 2 to 1 to remain in the ABCUSA), others insisted on proportional representation (e.g., FBC of Temple city which went 85% in favor of withdrawal would cast a portion of their votes for each side).

In the final analysis, there was no way to tell which side was most disadvantaged by the rules. Balancing the overwhelming clout of a mega church such as Pomona, which had voted unanimously to withdraw, with congregations one twentieth their size with a divided vote and half the delegates yet casting a "winner take all" ballot to remain, made it impossible to assess advantage. And, some of the churches reporting strongest support for the ABC but absent were evidently offset by those strongly in opposition to ABCUSA but declining to send delegates.

The press release by the American Baptist News Service claimed that "just over 50% of the member churches registered to participate in the vote."
Significantly, however, even if every eligible delegate had cast a ballot and every one of the non-participating churches cast votes to remain in the ABCUSA, the outcome would still have favored withdrawal by a substantial majority.

During the vote counting, Rev. Jay Walden, Worship Arts Minister at the Pomona congregation led worship using a mixture of traditional hymns and contemporary songs. Following the announcement of the vote there was no clapping, cheering, or public demonstrations of emotion.

Rev. Daniel Huerta, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Paramount (CA) offered a moving closing prayer in English and Spanish. He thanked the Lord for the cordial atmosphere of the meeting and the strong resolve to be committed to a biblical course of action.

Interesting sideline: PSW pastors stood on principle and against self interest in the vote today. In addition to the various fraternal urgings and paternal remonstrances from Valley Forge, one part of the "velvet covered" brick was not so well cushioned. Pastors knew that voting to leave ABC would result in the loss of at least 7 of the so-called "non contractual" benefits provided by MMBB. In other words, a variety of perks (all but one financial) that could result in tens of thousands of dollars in lost assistance, were on the line.

Active ABC clergy were in the forefront of the movement to withdraw from the ABCUSA. Indeed, with few exceptions, the churches electing to remain with the national denomination had a variety of retired ministers pushing that cause in congregations. San Diego area churches, for example, were case studies of some prominent retirees making life miserable for current pastors who tended to support the PSW leadership.

A few of these pastors standing with Dale Salico may lose their pulpits as a result of their courageous stands. And, even those who do not, will most likely lose MMBB non-contractual benefits (no big deal as long as you stay healthy, are not disabled, don't have unforeseen financial crises, do not die during your working years with minor children still in the home, and don't care to receive the "Thank You" checks each year during retirement).

Nevertheless, even with many of the retired mnisters opposing withdrawal and more than a few stirring up congregations against their pastors, the PSW clergy stood tall, even against their own financial self interests. Regardless of what you think about the strategy of withdrawal or the timing, you must credit the faithful courage of PSW pastors who led despite the odds.

May the pastors in the rest of the ABC prove as steadfast, immovable, always abounding in their labor for the Lord knowing that nothing they do for the Lord will ever be in vain!

[His Barking Dog still wanders around wild, not on the leash of the PSW or any entity within it. I did cast my delegate vote in favor of withdrawal as did all of the 23 representatives of our congregation.]


jesuit spy said...

Hey Dennis - Thanks for you report
Any idea how many churches will stay in ABCUSA?
Will PSW be able to help pastors that have lost non-contractual benefits with M&M?

Dennis E. McFadden said...

You ask two VERY good and VERY tough questions. My guess is that virtually all of the congregations represented by delegates voting to withdraw will go with PSW. Some, however, may remain "technically" aligned with ABCUSA for tactical reasons. Among those not in attendance today, some of the ethnic churches and some of the "don't rock the boat, our church is already sinking" people will probably stay ABCUSA affiliated. However, with a handful of notable exceptions (e.g., Redlands pastored by a pro-gay ordination pastor and Pasadena where former General Secretary Campbell is a member), those staying with the ABCUSA contribute virtually nothing now anyway. It will sorely stress the resources of Dr. Sam Chetti who has agreed to provide "watchcare" for the "LOYAL" American Baptists.