Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"A Vision for the Future of the ABCUSA National Shared Table " - Draft Proposal Being Circulated


Several ABC executive ministers have been reporting to their pastors discussions about a "shared table," a "common table" and the like. This concept was discussed among executives at the recent General Executive Council meetings. Today Durable Data's Glenn Layne printed the letter from Dr. David Carrico where he revealed that the West Virginia region will seek a General Board Resolution to Parts II and III of the Indiana/Kentucky petition. He also alluded to “A Vision for the Future of the ABCUSA National Shared Table.” What is the "shared table" concept? His Barking Dog has been given a copy today which I am posting for your information and discussion.

A VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF THE ABCUSA NATIONAL TABLE
In response to the November 2005 GEC vote by consensus to begin a discussion on changes to our current covenantal system, a group of REMC colleagues have been discussing on an informal basis ideas about structural changes which might be enacted to ensure a vital, vibrant future for ABCUSA. This vision is intended to encourage and focus our conversation in the days ahead.


As loyal American Baptist Executive Ministers, we see our denomination imploding – and do not want to see it happen. The current covenantal system is broken and appears to be unable to resolve issues that come before us. Our current financial situation – one of declining support for United Mission – is an expression of how local churches feel about the state of the national body
and the mission priorities they wish to fund. Giving trends indicate increasing designated giving toward regional work and special projects, and away from UM.

We continue to believe that we have a common mission as American Baptists. ABCUSA mission agencies and trans-regional expressions of ABC life have significant and special value to the extent they advance mission in partnership with local churches and ABC regions. In an age of radically changing structures, we feel the need to propose and create new organizational models for our common witness, where meaningful ministry-related decisions can be made. We sincerely hope that people of good will across theological spectrums will be able to embrace this vision; it is intended to include, and not exclude.

These new models should emerge in response to certain key principles:

a. We need to move toward organizational de-centralization. Both societal trends and denominational realities require that we move toward a more decentralized structure. The current representational system (OGS/GB/NEC/GEC/REMC) is not being supported by local church giving patterns.

b. We need to strengthen regional identity as a key ABC representational entity. The regions are parallel ministries, which come together at a national table of conversation and consultation, for common mission. We need to set free our ABCUSA mission agencies, AROs and Caucuses to advance their mission in the 21st Century, without the encumbrance of outdated bureaucratic complexities.

c. We need to maintain and strengthen a balanced commitment to and application of basic Baptist principles, which we all affirm and cherish. We wish to preserve the best of ABC polity and history as we face the future with faith. Nothing in this proposed vision is intended to weaken our historic Baptist distinctives, but rather to strengthen our ability to express them in our common life and witness.

d. The National Table needs to be transformed from a legislative/policy entity to a consultative venue in which regional partners coordinate and consult with one another on common mission endeavors. We wish to affirm the autonomy of the local church and regions to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We do not wish to continue a process of fighting over resolutions and statements of concern. We also wish to emphasize the historic Baptist commitment to the associational principle, in which we act responsibly in order to strengthen the life of all the partners within our fellowship. We seek a way to minimize future divisiveness.

e. We are all absolutely committed to our heritage of racial, ethnic and cultural inclusiveness. We recognize that we have not always live out this commitment as a denominational family, and we believe it is essential for the integrity of our common witness that we do so more faithfully in the future. In accordance with these 5 principles, we propose the following vision of a new ABCUSA National Table. It is an outline, intended to be a pro-active and creative entreaty to all of our ABC constituency. Please consider it with an open heart and mind!

1. The Formation of a De-centralized and Leaner Shared Table: In place of the currently stressed multi-level representational system GS/GB/NEC/GEC/REMC), we propose the creation of a new “Shared Table” composed of Regional Executive Ministers, who will come together nationally for significant events and occasions, for purposes such as worship, celebration, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the strengthening of congregational life and mission. The focus of the Shared Table in consultative, not governance. Administratively, the “Center” is lessened to a few select and necessary activities (shared support services, ecumenical relationships, coordinating gatherings). The Shared Table will elect its officers. The Table sill call a Secretary with very limited responsibilities, and responsible to it. She/he may represent the family in ceremonial and ecumenical affairs. The purpose of the Shared Table is to promote cooperation in mission, and to share wisdom and regional needs/stories.

2. The Embracing of Increased Local Church and Regional Autonomy: Local churches hold regional membership, which can be geographical, or affinity based – the local church decides where it affiliates (it can still also be disciplined by an association and/or region). Regions determine standards for admitting and dismissing churches, ordination standards and reciprocity.

3. ABCUSA Belongs to its People: Biennial meetings (or variations, like virtual meetings) would serve as custodians of the ABCUSA constitution and by-laws. This is where ultimately lay people and local church pastors retain ownership of ABCUSA. The National Table’s Secretary could also have her/his call affirmed by the Biennial gathering.

4. Promoting a More Nimble and Flexible ABC Missional Network: National Boards, AROs, Caucuses form their own independent Boards, which for their own benefit would no doubt be composed of ABC stakeholders from across the regions. Members of the ABC Missional Network would be invited to share with the Table in order to foster communication and cooperative mission. They could partner with individual regions or churches for a variety of mission endeavors.

5. In order to promote unity and an ongoing sense of American Baptist identity, we propose the adoption of the following list of Shared Values:

1. Jesus Christ is the Head of Our Shared Table!

2. Reformational, Anabaptist and English Baptist Roots

3. American Baptist Heritage

4. Continuing Commitment to ABC ethnic and cultural diversity

5. The Current “We are American Baptists” (2005)
These Shared Values characterize, we believe, the deeply held convictions of the vast majority of lay people, pastors, churches and regions in our American Baptist family. When we gather at the national common table, partners will live out, abide by and respect the values, norms and rules of the Shared Table. For the sake of the whole, they would not send to the National Table people who do not subscribe to these values.

6. As American Baptists, we will engage the culture – both prophetically and pastorally – primarily through our host of local churches. Regions may issue joint statements, if they wish, but they shall not be construed as speaking for all American Baptists. If statements are made in the name of the entire Fellowship at the Shared Table level, the threshold for acceptance should be very high.

7. Funding Mission in a De-centralized ABCUSA: The Table Partners will raise the funds for the Table, if the Endowment gained through the sale of the Valley Forge
property cannot cover all expenses. United Mission would be replaced by a system in which each of the current partners to the Covenant (Regions/National Ministries/International Ministries/Other ABC partners) would be represented. Churches could give directly to ABC Network Partners or through their regional offices. The fundamental principle is this: churches choose how much to give to whom. Each partner is set free to do fund raising, in cooperation with others, as they feel is best.


[His Barking Dog received this draft on Tuesday. It had been circulating around the country among executive ministers and others. Although I published it after receiving it from a pastor, the principal author of the piece indicated to me that the Lancaster Vision statement is now public.]

1 comment:

baptistlikeme said...

Some counterpoints:
"Our current financial situation, one of declining support for United Mission, is an expression of how local churches feel about the state of the national body and the mission priorities they wish to fund. Giving trends indicate increasing designated giving toward regional work and special projects, and away from UM."

If BLM is right about a lack of access, knowledge, and enfranchisement at local levels, declining UM support likely has nothing to do with anyone's dissatisfaction with National. Our contention continues to be that lay members on the ground don't know enough about our present strife to vote with their pocketbooks one way or the other. Consider also that the average Christian (including a majority of evangelicals and others who are wont to raise the banner of Scriptural Authority in other matters) only give 3 percent of their income to any kind of church work. Consider the drop in giving experienced by many, many charities as Americans turned or attention to relief efforts for the Tsunami and Katrina victims in a time of economic uncertainty.
The relationship between drops in UM giving and supposed local dissatisfaction with National is purely anecdotal.

"We need to strengthen regional identity as a key ABC representational entity."

Did anyone not see this coming after Parchment Valley? According to McFadden, the PVA and Lancaster groups are largely the same but not identical.


"We wish to affirm the autonomy of the local church and regions to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We do not wish to continue a process of fighting over resolutions and statements of concern. We also wish to emphasize the historic Baptist commitment to the associational principle, in which we act responsibly in order to strengthen the life of all the partners within our fellowship. We seek a way to minimize future divisiveness."

This is good if local autonomy means lay access. In this spirit, this document should be vetted by all interested members of all member churches in the regions represented.

"We are all absolutely committed to our heritage of racial, ethnic and cultural inclusiveness."

This is just a question: Who was in charge of distributing the GEC Surveys? Whoever it was at whatever level missed this point entirely.

"It is an outline, intended to be a pro-active and creative entreaty to all of our ABC constituency."

Glorious transparency!

"The Embracing of Increased Local Church and Regional Autonomy: Local churches hold regional membership, which can be geographical, or affinity based- the local church decides where it affiliates (it can still also be disciplined by an association and/or region). Regions determine standards for admitting and dismissing churches, ordination standards and reciprocity."

Is IN/KY party to this?

"ABCUSA Belongs to its People: Biennial meetings (or variations, like virtual meetings) would serve as custodians of the ABCUSA constitution and by-laws. This is where ultimately lay people and local church pastors retain ownership of ABCUSA. The National Table'’s Secretary could also have her/his call affirmed by the Biennial gathering."

But really, power would reside with the REMC.

"These Shared Values characterize, we believe, the deeply held convictions of the vast majority of lay people, pastors, churches and regions in our American Baptist family. When we gather at the national common table, partners will live out, abide by and respect the values, norms and rules of the Shared Table. For the sake of the whole, they would not send to the National Table people who do not subscribe to these values."

That dog won't hunt. First of all, Shared Value #5 includes the IN/KY statement on human sexuality. Consequently, no gay delegates (or dissenting heterosexuals) will be involved at the "National Table" which seems outlandish given what this document says it's trying to accomplish. I affirm the 2005 "We Are American Baptists," but doesn't this proposal seem like a de facto excommunication of many, many people? Utterly unbaptist.

"If statements are made in the name of the entire Fellowship at the Shared Table level, the threshold for acceptance should be very high."

Define "high." Consensus isn't enough. The views of a group of powerful regions isn't enough. Committing to excluding anyone from the National Table who doesn't subscribe to all the values makes it sound like this threshold is already set.

God help us.