Thursday, May 04, 2006

What Would Justify an Ecclesiastical "Do Over" by PSW?

What would prevent the PSW board from voting to withdraw on May 11 or would allow for a return to the “fold” of the American Baptist family?

This question is posed in somewhat different words by my friend and blogging twin, Dr. Glenn Layne, of Durable Data fame. Glenn observes:

The sky did not fall over southern California this week, nor over Arizona nor Vegas nor over the isles of Hawaii. The delegates of the PSW voted to exit the ABCUSA and the Wrath of God did not burst forth in eschatological fury.The reality is we don't need Valley Forge. Neither does Maine (the ABC thereof) or Michigan or Ohio or West Virginia or, well, a lot of places.There was a time when American Baptists--back when they were called Northern Baptists--did just fine without a National Headquarters or even a General Secretary. What we needed to do cooperatively we did through mission societies (now falsely labeled "program boards").And we could do that again. We don't need a Valley Forge. Events of the last few years show that not only don't we need a Valley Forge--Valley Forge is the problem.

Glenn opines, “I still consider myself an American Baptist. The window for reform is open briefly.”

What would it take for reform to effect the transformation necessary to “undo” the PSW vote? What would allow for a kind of ecclesiastical mulligan or “do over” with respect to the movement toward separation and withdrawal?

Certainly one move would immediately receive the virtually unanimous support of thinking people on the right: living by the 1992 resolution on human sexuality. No, not engaging in witch hunts, heresy safaris or looking for heterodoxy under every doily. Just promoting a mainstream traditionalist view as reflected by speakers in venues such as the biennial, Wait on the Lord, ABC programs and the like. There will always be people inhabiting the extreme right and left. Listen to them, allow them to be Baptists, i.e., “wrong,” but do not bend over backwards to accommodate their points of view.

OK, enough quixotic fantasizing. Several leaders in Valley Forge have already rejected that option as impossible within the constraints of our polity. What else could produce a reason for PSW to return to the ABC “fold” and reverse the course we almost certainly seem to be on at the present time?

A second scenario would allow for widespread buy in – both by traditionalists and progressives. If we moved to a pre-1907 structure, without “program boards” or Rube Goldberg 1970s era organizational structures (thanks to SCODS and SCORE), much of the danger building in the pressure cooker we call Valley Forge would be relieved.

It is not an accident that many on both the left and right agree on one thing, as Glenn put it: “Valley Forge is the problem.” Now that rumor has it that the headquarters building may be up for sale, what a wonderful time to re-invent ourselves without the infrastructure once intended to fill that magnificent edifice.

We could radically decentralize our structure, opting for more of a network of Baptist associations. Hey, that holds considerable claim to historical precedence! Ask Howard Stewart about the genius of the association in Baptist life and how our Harvey Everett inspired restructuring has nearly eradicated much of the genius of Baptist polity.

Such a change would be difficult to sell to people in Valley Forge. After all, those in the Office of the General Secretary earn their salaries as full-time mechanics and tinkerers, virtual engineers of the ecclesiastical machine. But, facing the first signs of system wide failure and breakdown, wiser heads in the Regional Executive Ministers Council—those strange creatures forced to mediate between the pastors and people in the pews and the powers that be in King of Prussia—might be persuaded that the only alternative would be implosion.

My frequently uttered maxim, “where you stand has a lot to do with where you sit,” might be revised to note that when the seat where you sit gets hot enough, even the most recalcitrant bureaucrat will change seats. Perhaps it is time for pastors and congregations to help some of the other regional Executive Ministers to feel how hot their seats really are.

If that happens, who knows, maybe even PSW will see the value of remaining American Baptists.

[His Barking Dog sits in a parachurch ministry and stands OUTSIDE the realm of officialdom in the PSW; my views are unconnected to anyone in any chain of command]

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