Sunday, July 30, 2006

AWAB's Rev. Pennings Offers Response to Dr. Medley's "Call" to American Baptists: Predicts "Extreme Moral Outrage" by AWAB Members

In a message addressed to the "Members of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists," Rev. Ken Pennings, Executive Director of the association responded to Dr. Medley's July 17, 2006, "A Call for American Baptists to Live Lives of High Moral and Ethical Responsibility" posted at

He speaks of his pain, the "same pain" he experienced when a pastor who found out that Rev. Pennings was gay asked him not to come back to the church "ever" again. He predicts unanimous "extreme moral outrage" by all 65 AWAB congregations at Roy's letter.

Rev. Pennings raises several good questions, prompted by the letter. "What are those of us in the ABC who are so deeply hurt by your letter to make of it? Is your letter an invitation for us to leave the ABC? Or we reading something into it we shouldn't?" Characterizing the letter as a "call" not to ministry, but to "acts of exclusion," he reacts against the "exclusionism, elitism, and judgmentalism" he finds filling the missive.

In response, Rev. Pennings issues a "call" of his own:
"I urge Roy and all American Baptists to repent of this kind of exclusion of God's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Allied people, and 1) to welcome the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists as an official exhibitor at the 2007 ABCUSA Biennial; 2) to endorse qualified LGBT-Allied chaplains; and 3) to joyfully hire qualified LGBT-Allied people on his immediate staff. Also, I urge Roy to retract his letter and to confess his lapse in judgment in posting it."

[His Barking Dog lives in his own cyber doghouse and when barking does not wear the tags of any official persons or organizations]

Friday, July 28, 2006

Rejecting the Rapture: Reasons for a More Mainstream Eschatology or More Conservative Bashing? (Revised)

Thanks to another Baptist blogger, I was tipped off to the recent publication of Left Behind? The Facts Behind the Fiction, published by American Baptist Judson Press and penned by American Baptist Seminary of the West Old Testament scholar, LeAnn Snow Flesher (2006).

In little more than 150 pages, Flesher succeeds in reviewing the storyline behind the publishing phenomenon by authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, describes premillennial dispensationalism clearly, cuts to the subtext of a “war” against secular humanism she sees animating the series, ventures into the realm of hermeneutics, applies her principles to an analysis of Left-Behind’s approach to Daniel and Revelation (along with her own corrective interpretations), and extrapolates implications for the church.

In Flesher’s view most “real” scholars do not read the books, nor do pastors take the time to explore either the novels or the dispensational ideas behind them. But, with more than 60 million copies in circulation she concludes that “prophecy belief is far more central in American thought than previously recognized” and the “explosion of interest in the series can be directly connected to the catastrophic events of 9/11” (pg. 7). Furthermore, she argues that seminary professors and pastors “can no longer afford to ignore the phenomenon the premillennial dispensational prophecy teachers are sustaining" (pg. 13).

Clearly Flesher has been shocked and appalled by the popularity of the books. After all, they “perpetuate a massive misunderstanding of the nature of Scripture,” “create and support a separatist worldview,” and the admixture of good theology (seminary taught pastors) and bad theology (dispensational notions drawn from the “self-designated prophecy teachers” held by lay people)may “thwart . . . healthy forward movement in local congregations” (pg. 13).

Flesher should be lauded for her clarity, succinct and precise exposition, and relative restraint. Yes, she trots out the stories of early dispensationalism’s pioneers, replete with their lack of formal theological training, jail time for forgery (prior to Scofield’s conversion he was implicated in accusations of stolen political contributions while serving as an U.S. attorney in President Grant’s administration), and that their view represents a “minority of a minority” position. Still, her chapter reads like a dictionary article on the subject. She rightly locates the central issues in dispensationalism as a literal hermeneutic and a distinction between Israel and the Church.

Clearly Dr. Flesher does not appreciate the Left Behind series very much. In her mind, the books are based upon bad hermeneutics and lead to worse ecclesiastical, theological, and social consequences. Her chapter on hermeneutics opines that interpretation is as much art as science (pg. 58). And, her clear and helpful delineation of basic principles of context and sensitive handling of language would hardly be objected to by anyone.

For this scholar, Daniel (given a dating between 167 and 164 BCE) and Revelation were never intended to be interpreted futuristically. Practically anything but an idealist or preterist handling of Revelation receives swift dismissal. Obviously the point of Revelation has to do with a “call to nonviolent resistance” by Christian disciples she suggests (pg. 99).

More controversial will be the lumping together of a philosophical war against “secular humanism” with opposition to the “social gospel” (pg. 37). Throughout her discussion, she critiques Left Behind theology as a “gross oversimplification” and misreading of the Bible and church history. A claim to “literal” interpretative principles can only be called “unrealistic” or even “deceptive” (pg. 58).

Add to this her complaint that some of LaHaye and Jenkins’ assertions are “absurd” (pg. 43), they come from “ultraconservative . . . fundamentalists” (pg. 44), are filled with anti-Catholic propaganda (pgs. 45-55), reinforce stereotypes that prostitutes and drug addicts are “salvageable but lesbians are not” (pg. 54), engage in howlers of ethnocentrism, particularly against Asians (pgs. 54-56), and that a martyr’s death in the series seems reminiscent of Palestinian suicide missions” (pg. 53).

At root, Dr. Flesher says LaHaye and Jenkins pit the apostate mainline denominations and their apostate ministers “who had been indoctrinated in apostate seminaries” against God’s gift of “twentieth century people like D.L. Moody (sic) and the establishment of Bible institutes, Christian colleges, and training centers” (pg. 104). Her fear is that in the lexicon of premillennialists (at least those of a dispensational stripe), “churches that retain an ethic of social justice – that is, believe the Bible teaches Christians to strive for justice and equity for all people—are apostate because they do not hold to the ‘moral absolutes’ promoted by those who share the view of LaHaye and Jenkins” (pg. 104).

While most evangelicals accept what Luther called the sensus literalis (i.e., “literal”) approach to biblical interpretation, not all evangelicals are dispensational or pretribulational (as Flesher herself acknowledges). In that sense, much of what Flesher castigates as unrealistic and even deceptive derives from her critique of the LaHaye/Jenkins version of premillennialism, although a fair reading of her book would lead you to believe that anyone holding to a claim of a “literal” hermeneutic must necessarily be guilty of the errors she ascribes to LaHaye and Jenkins. Indeed, many practioners of a “literal” interpretative method would hail from the amillennial and preterist side of the aisle (cf. R.C. Sproul), not dispensational premillennialism.

Flesher reports that when someone accuses her of abandoning the authority of Scripture, she replies: “‘Right back at you.’ We are all guilty of this because we each read from our own location, because we cannot know for sure that we have comprehended the intended meaning of the author and, because as human beings, we all see in the mirror dimly” (pg. 65).

I cannot help but get the feeling that professor Flesher takes special delight in disabusing young seminarians of their na├»ve views of biblical authority (cf. pgs. 64-66; pg. 151). Certainly the number of times she complains against the terms “Bible believing,” “literal interpretation,” “authority of Scripture,” and the like reveal this as the most persistent theme in the book. Others will judge whether the analysis of dispensationalism fairly represents that system. However, the dismissive and adversarial tone of the criticism speaks more than merely to the idiosyncrasies of “Darbyite” theology. Flesher grinds her ax against premillennialism generally and, by implications, against all conservatives of whatever eschatological persuasion who operate from traditional Reformational hermeneutics.

Judson Press has made a small group study resource available as a companion to the book. Designed to "help readers explore alternative understandings of Scripture passages that have been linked to the end times . . . it will provide specific perspectives that challenge the end times views promoted by the best-selling series."

As a seminary educated evangelical, much of Flesher's critique makes sense to me. However, her dismissal of LaHaye and Jenkins engaged in reductionistic analysis and broad brush claims that seem overreaching. No pretribulationalist I know, at least those receiving their educations in the Christian colleges and Bible institutes she pits against seminary educated pastors, was taught the kind of ignorant literalism she alleges. From my own personal knowledge of reading lists currently in use at Christian colleges and Bible institutes, the hermeneutics texts required in courses teach a sophisticated, albeit conservative, Reformational approach to interpretation. Gordon Fee, Moises Silva, Walter Kaiser, and Craig Blomberg hardly represent the ranks of ignorant literalists.

Frankly, given the choice between a Left Behinder who loves the Lord and trusts his word and a sophisticated seminary graduate who spends most of his or her time proclaiming ambiguity and explaining what the Bible does not "really" mean, I would rather fellowship or do ministry together with the Left Behinder.

[His Barking Dog does not even pretend to understand the grammar of the two aorist active indicatives, ezēsan in each case, in Rev. 20:4 and 5 or other eschatalogical arcana. So, obviously these opinions are solely my own and should not be imputed to anyone, anything, or any authority anywhere outside my cyber doghouse]

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Take Out the Left, the Right, and the Post-Moderns and What Do You Have Left? (Revised)

Today, one of the Baptist bloggers, identified by as a "liberal" ABC blogger (and a trusted friend of mine, by the way), responded to Dr. Medley's call as follows:

"Sadly, the short-sighted stands taken by those in Valley Forge seem to be pushing us towards extinction. The conservatives will not be placated. The liberals will be hurt. The post-moderns will pack their bags and walk because they have more important issues to discuss. Very little will be left."

In the midst of his analysis leading to that pessimistic conclusion, he observed that the '92 resolution was a "mail in" ballot, without philosophical, biblical, or sociological groundings or implementation measures. He cites the '93 resolution which invited ongoing dialogue on issues of human sexuality as a "correction" to the earlier statement. Not only does the '93 effort contain nuanced language inviting "dialogue," but it contains "all of the background materials and steps for implementation."

"Read together one can only conclude that the second resolution is a corrective to the first. "We" don't affirm anything in common regarding homosexuality. Indeed, there are a variety of understandings held by American Baptists ranging from the idea that no homosexual relationship is ever anything except sinful and that homosexual people should never be allowed in leadership roles all of the way to the belief that homosexual relationships are just a reflection of the diversity of God's beautiful creation. If a resolution needs to be implemented, it is the second which, again, presumably corrects the mistakes of the first one."

"Baptist Blogger" ponders why did Roy say this NOW? Last biennial Medley's sermon seemed predicated on the '93 resolution, including his profession to be willing to defend those who disagree with him. His recent letter reads (even to those on the left) as an endorsement of the '92 decision with its definitive and declarative language straight out of the black-and-white lexicon of moral absolutes. "Baptist Blogger" muses that had Dr. Medley delivered this sermon at the biennial, PSW might not have withdrawn (a point I also made in earlier postings).

Here are a few reactions . . .

1. Roy is sincerely a peacemaker by temperament. His message last summer was intended to purchase peace with all sides by affirming what the conservatives believe ("personally traditional"), protecting the AWAB folks (sisters and brothers who "sincerely disagree"), and shoring up the middle (see how we can all get along). An examination of his entire sermon will reveal the various pieces of raw meat thrown to the right (e.g., missionary stories, invocation of the name of Billy Graham, etc.), to the left ("Baptist principles are biblical"), and to the center. I do not believe he had any idea that his words (with the help reportedly of Bob Roberts) would so infuriate the right, representing virtually a challenge for regions to withdraw.

2. Whatever he meant then or means now, there is a conflict at the level of surface meaning between the biennial sermon and the declaration this month. Unless he chooses to function in good post-modern equivocation over the signification of language, he will need to clarify which Roy is the "real" one.

3. Several of my Baptist friends have alluded to the CYA character of the document. Some on both the left and the right have interpreted this as a piece of shameless butt covering. I have always seen Roy as a man of integrity and tend not to construe his comments so cynically. However, that lays the responsibility on Dr. Medley to clarify exactly what he does mean: was the biennial message the real Roy Medley or was it the pastoral letter?

4. Regardless of what he meant, means, or wishes he would have meant . . . Roy has another problem on his hands. Those on his left interpret the letter as cowardly and shameful. And, if he does not follow it up with actions, those on the right will interpret it as nothing more than a political G string. Either way, while he may have reassured the middle by his moderation, his seeming flip-flop will not likely endear him to either the left or the right.

So, where does that leave us? I return to the same words with which this posting began:

"Sadly, the short-sighted stands taken by those in Valley Forge seem to be pushing us towards extinction. The conservatives will not be placated. The liberals will be hurt. The post-moderns will pack their bags and walk because they have more important issues to discuss. Very little will be left."

Now that Dr. Medley has made a seemingly definitive statement, albeit at odds with his sermon last summer, it remains to be seen what actions will follow.

[His Barking Dog has had all his shots and only sounds wild and rabid. But, affected, infected, or defected, I do not profess to be confected with persons, authorities, entities, or organizations outside my own doghouse here in cyberspace.]

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Quick Organizational Behavior Audit of Reactions to Dr. Medley's Statement

In the immediate aftermath of Dr. Medley's recent courageous statement on ethics and morality, reactions were swift and predicable.

A couple of early statements from AWAB voices summed it up well:

"This is indeed a disturbing message and offers, I think, a rather important clue to where things are headed for the ABCUSA. or where a significant faction would like to see them headed . . . I think all of us on all sides of the issue, will find that the denomination will take on less and less meaning for us. There are other formal and informal alliances, associations, and fellowships that will take on larger meaning for us. In fact, this is already a reality for many of us, no matter where we are on the theological spectrum of American Baptist life . . . So as distressing as the General Secretary's message is, and its implications, all of our eggs don't any longer need to be in that one basket. We need to help shape life in that basket the best we can, but it is also time to weave another basket or two. Any Baptist basket makers out there?"

"I, too, am extremely disturbed by it, on several levels . . . I find it offensive that the tone of the letter speaks from an assumed authority to make his pronouncements--something quite contrary to the Baptist principles I adhere to . . . I am most troubled, though, by the third paragraph, where the following "issues" are lumped into one . . . There is no acceptable or understandable reason why a Christian leader, especially of the ABC, would link the concepts of sexual obsession, sexual abuse, and sexual impropriety with homosexuality. Whether intentional or not, I find this nearly unforgivable . . . I am disturbed and ashamed by this letter. I am attempting at this point to discern a more rational response than I feel right now."

Comments from the right were mixed. Some, like His Barking Dog applauded the statement as courageous and welcomed it. Others, such as Durable Data, opined that "the theo-left has nothing to fear from the Medley letter." He reasoned that "the idea is to have a letter on hand to use to shut up conservatives. Expect no implementation." The general tone of most conservatives was a very cautious "wait and see."

Those in the middle, particularly officialdom, gave strong support to the statement, citing Dr. Medley's proven record of personal probity, high level of integrity, and genuine spirituality. Dwight Stinnett, of "ABC Views from the Middle," typified this response, hailing it as "important . . . and unprecedented." He reasoned that no General Secretary has ever taken the risk to be so forthright and candid in such a way during recent memory.

The most likely immediate fallout will be the use of the statement by moderate Executive Ministers anxious to staunch the hemorrhaging in their regions. In the near term they will answer any negative questions with reference to the "clear and unambiguous" statement by the General Secretary. It would probably be a "smart" idea for EMs to feature Medley's statement in their montly/periodic newsletters going to pastors and lay leaders. In this way they could purchase the near-term quiescence of some of the pastors wondering what all of the hubbub in PSW was about and rally a cadre of lay leaders against future suggestions of withdrawal at the same time.

Mid-term, however, actions speak louder than words. The GS will need to follow up his statement in some demonstrable way lest he have wasted his efforts only to antagonize the left and further alienate the right.

[His Barking Dog disclaims any position of authority or special insider knowledge. Nearly 50 years ago my box of frosted flakes lacked the promised secret universal decoder ring. I have been paradigmatically clueless ever since.]

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Pray for Missionaries in Lebanon!!!

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS)—One week after violence erupted in the Middle East nation of Lebanon, International Ministries says missionaries Dan and Sarah Chetti and volunteer Jennifer Wallace are still safe. The Chettis serve at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut. Jennifer Wallace, from the First Baptist Church in Hamilton, Ohio, is currently a volunteer at the seminary. At this time, the Chettis have chosen to remain and minister with our partner in Lebanon.

IM’s area director for Europe and the Middle East, Rev. Reid Trulson, is urging American Baptists to be in prayer for our personnel, the students, and staff of the seminary as well as the people of Lebanon and Israel. Since the conflict broke out a week ago, over 300 persons have been killed, the vast majority in Lebanon, as well as an estimated 500,000 persons displaced. Trulson is in regular contact with IM's missionaries in the region by email, the most effective means of communication presently.

According to media reports, fighters from Hezbollah, an Islamicist militia, launched a morning assault into Israel, Wednesday, July 12, killing six Israeli soldiers, and kidnapping several others. At the time, Hezbollah hoped to swap the Israeli soldiers for the several hundred Hezbollah fighters now in Israeli prisons. In response, Israel sent armored forces into southern Lebanon for the first time in six years, and it bombed the runways at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, shutting down the facility. Israeli naval ships have been blockading Lebanon's ports, to prevent Hezbollah from receiving weapons shipments, and bombing of sites in Southern Beirut, Southern Lebanon and other parts of the country

In a public statement, Rev. Nabil Costa said more than 700 displaced Lebanese are staying at the Beirut Baptist School, while others have taken refuge at the seminary. Costa is a Baptist leader, and he is head of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

After Dr. Medley's Statement Is It Time to "Talk Turkey" with Our Siblings on the Left?

Yesterday Dr. Medley issued a courageous and controversial statement endorsing the ’92 ABC resolution on human sexuality and affirming that marriage is rightly between only a man and a woman. This was met with astonishment and concurrence by many on the right and by no small measure of dismay by the left.

The fallout from the left was swift and severe. While some maintained a posture of polite disagreement, others registered shock and anger. One person reacted to Dr. Medley's letter by saying she was "extremely disturbed by it, on several levels . . . I find it offensive." The same person concluded: "There is no acceptable or understandable reason why a Christian leader, especially of the ABC, would link the concepts of sexual obsession, sexual abuse, and sexual impropriety with homosexuality. Whether intentional or not, I find this nearly unforgivable."

The statement by the General Secretary signals a critical point in the life of the denomination practically begging for analysis. What should we say in response to Dr. Medley’s letter?

First, charges that the battle within the denomination pits the “liberals” vs. the “fundamentalists” casts the dispute in perversely ahistorical ways. Where are the “fundamentalists” in the ABC? Point to a Fred Phelps or a Bob Jones in our ranks! One of the marks of 20th century fundamentalism most odious to mainline (and evangelical) sensibilities was the doctrine of separation, particularly secondary and tertiary separation. Not only must Christians separate from direct fellowship with those believed to hold to heresies (often little more than minor differences in eschatological schema, subtle distinctions in one’s view of Bible translation, petty variations in social mores), but even from contact with those in fellowship with people holding such views. By this understanding, Billy Graham was often stigmatized by fundamentalists as an unworthy compromiser. Almost by definition, anyone still in the ABC would be a very bad example of a fundamentalist.

Second, Dr. Medley has often said that we have very few “liberals” in the ABC. We are a very centrist denomination, he opines. A chorus of critics of my recent blogs have argued that the actual number of truly “liberal” people in the ABC is really quite small. In fact, one author accused me of cherry picking possibly the most liberal pastor in the entire denomination (and then a pastor ordained by the UCC and leading a federated ABC/UCC congregation at that) for a couple of my recent blogs of last week.

So, where does that leave us? If there are by now no (or few) true fundamentalists left in the ABC, how do the conservatives respond to Dr. Medley’s statement? With enthusiasm and support, naturally. What about the response of those in the "center"? They approve of it as well. So, who is there left to object to it? Those remaining would be the ones who by the estimation of most Valley Forge staff, bloggers, and “loyal American Baptists” are a VERY small number of fringe persons.

Well then, why should the ABC fracture and split into 5,800 pieces over the actions of so few a number? If the conservatives are content with Roy’s statement and the moderates support it, who is left? Yesterday some of the chatter on the AWAB site spoke of not putting all of our “eggs in one basket” in terms of affiliation. The context raised the specter of the denomination becoming less and less significant while other affiliations (e.g., Alliance of Baptists, Baptists without Borders, etc.???) become correspondingly more meaningful.

If the far left represents such a small number of persons who are already considering alternative alliances, might this piece of information be crucial at this difficult time? Would it not be an appropriate time for some high level delegation to sit down with leaders of these supposedly very small groups on the left in order to negotiate an amicable separation from the ABC for the “good of the family”? Or, one might simply wait for September and follow the basic contours of the “Lancaster” proposal (aka “Common Table”)?

These are propitious moments that may be claimed by leadership to avoid further fracturing and splintering of the "family."

[His Barking Dog professes no connection to any person, authority, or organization other than me and my own opinions.]

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

ABC General Secretary Issues Strong Statement on Moral Integrity and Sexual Ethics

The following statement, dated July 17, was issued by the Office of the General Secretary of the ABCUSA. It is worthy of note by all ABC members and watchers:

Dear American Baptist:

The following call is being issued as a continuing part of our implementation of policies adopted by the General Board. I call it to your prayerful attention.

A Call for American Baptists to Live Lives of High Moral and Ethical Responsibility

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called… (Ephesians 4:1)

A life centered in Christ makes Christ the model and is worthy of replication (Philippians 3:10). There are many dimensions to the Christ-centered life including—but not limited to—integrity, stewardship, compassion, spiritual practices, and sexual discipline (Ephesians 6:13). In various times and ways American Baptists have spoken to these aspects of the life of discipleship.

While not the most important discipleship issue in the New Testament, nor our highest priority of ministry lest we focus on one set of sins above others that afflict us such as racism, greed, sexism and gluttony, nonetheless, sexual concerns increasingly dominate our attention (Romans 1:28). We live in a culture obsessed with sex. We see evidence of sexual abuse every day. We are stunned at the reports of sexual impropriety by persons in caring professions (1 Corinthians 6:18). Many persons have been victims of these abuses. The result is an environment of deep suspicion regarding the sexual integrity of persons in authority. In this context, the matter of homosexual practices continues to divide American Baptists.

The official position of American Baptist Churches USA is that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that marriage is intended to be “between a woman and a man” (Ephesians 5:31).

This is my personal belief, as the General Secretary of ABCUSA, but more so, it is my responsibility to uphold this as the official position of the General Board of ABCUSA. This has been implemented in the admission of official exhibitors at the ABCUSA Biennial, chaplain endorsements, and in the staffing practices of the staff accountable to me.

Not only do I strive to live a life centered in Christ with moral integrity, I expect the same from my staff, and I call upon all American Baptists to live exemplary lives of the highest ethical responsibility in all matters, including matters of sexuality.

Further, I call upon all American Baptists to practice Christ-like compassion (Colossians 3:12) and care for all of God’s people in our families, our communities, and our churches. The redeeming love of Jesus Christ must be extended to all persons, and there is no place for hate, violence, or injustice (Philippians 4:8).

Finally, I call upon all American Baptists to practice a life of prayer, purpose (Philippians 1:21) and passion (Philippians 3:13) in our lives together. We must pray with and for one another, share our purpose in Christ, and practice passionate care and regard for one another. In this way we bear witness to Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:1-11).

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary

WOW! Well said, Dr. Medley, well said!

Lingering Fears, Questions, and Doubts in the Middle of the Night

OK, so I'm a recovering fretter and worrier. I'll cop to my tendency to do better with analysis than constructive action. So it should not be a surprise that my region's transition from ABCPSW to Transformation Ministries leaves me with more than a few unanswered questions and anxious moments. Yes, my pen spilled more than its share of ink arguing against the revisionist view of soul liberty within the denominational leadership (especially as evident in the REMC, OGS, and--therefore in the--GEC). My congregation sent me as a delegate to Pomona to cast a vote for withdrawal from the ABCUSA. Still, questions and concerns abound.

* Why has the flow of information been so slow to get to the grassroots? It is almost as if Covina operated on a need-to-know basis rather than flooding the churches with information. I must say that Dr. Salico did an excellent job of providing quick FAQ's responses and posting them on the regional web site. And, his regional tour was amazing in terms of the numbers of venues where he appeared to present the region’s position and to field questions. Getting the information to the congregations, however, proceeded at a much slower pace.

* Despite the role of the vision team in developing a regional vision, the actions of the board in affirming it, and the indefatigable efforts of the good and Godly Dr. Salico in interpreting it, where is the role of the "folks" in this "Baptist" movement? Sometimes it feels as if the model of self-perpetuating boards of mega-churches has been adopted uncritically as the controlling one for our region's latest movements. Yes, the board did take the unprecedented step of holding a plebiscite in Pomona with several more in remote locations. Still, the "feel" is more top-down than representative.

* Do the pastors who were so quick to condemn heresy within the ABCUSA have an equal commitment to promoting a positive vision for ministry in the new Transformation Ministries? For decades we have been focused on what is "wrong" with the ABCUSA. Now we are soon to be free of “them” (as of November 1, anyhow). But, do we have a similar degree of energy for the arduous task of building a new and effective network, one that will meet the organizational needs of the 21st century? Or, as some of our critics have predicted, will we simply fly off in as many directions as there are people? Or, even more frightening, will we merely fall into internal fights and feuds among ourselves?

Conservatives have the reputation for being fractious beyond all reason. Will we find that sans the common enemy of "Valley Forge," we have little in common to bind us together? This becomes more worrisome given the post-denominational nature of our present church experience. Some of our larger churches boycotted the Pomona plebiscite, not out of disagreement with the regional direction, but more due to a casual indifference to finding relevance in anything “denominational.” It may be that some of the churches were willing to continue a tenuous and largely symbolic connection to the ABC rather than expend the energy to pull away from it. But will congregations bother to go out of their way to create new ties with the Transformation Ministries, particularly if it involves the expenditure of precious time and energy? Or, will a significant number of them just drift away from both the ABCUSA and the region?

I have great faith in the character and ability of Dr. Dale Salico and his staff. My questions and doubts can be explained in part by my fretting personality. But, beyond this, my fears are directed toward the post-denominational nature of our current church reality. George Barna has been predicting the end of many institutional churches, to be replaced with house churches. Will we see a new region emerge with vigor and vitality out of the old PSW or merely a passing away of a structure now deemed strangely out of touch with the times? Dr. Salico and his team of vision architects (to use a term from Bill Nicoson’s endeavors), have worked on these questions for a good bit of time. My prayer is that by the grace of God they will succeed and that we will experience an unusual season of blessing from our sovereign Lord. Certainly the needs are great. May God bless his harvesters in their efforts.

[His Barking Dog chases all cars, regardless of whether they bear Valley Forge or Covina plates. My quixotic runs are entirely on my own and without official sanction from any power, authority, or organization. IMHO, despite my genuine questions about some things in Transformation Ministries, this seasoned car chaser still thinks that the people driving the cars with PSW plates seem to follow their biblical roadmaps better than those with the VF ones.]

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Scope of Our Diversity: An Example from a Recent Gay Pride Sermon

One of the prevailing mythologies controlling ABC life has to do with the belief, firmly entrenched, that we are truly a rather middle-of-the-road denomination. Surely only about 10% can be counted on the lunatic left fringe with another 10% inhabiting the reactionary right fringe we are told. The majority of us are happy to be in the middle of the muddle. I have argued against this thesis for years, utilizing both anecdotal observations and quantitative data from scientific surveys of ABC leadership.

The uniquely bold defense of abotion, posted earlier this week, was intended to demonstrate that our diversity was more significant than some will allow. The example taken was of a pastor in an historically favored and denominationally exalted congregation. That they live on the left side of the street cannot be denied; that national leadership has been quite attentive to this congregation similarly cannot be refuted. Membership on important boards, invitations to speak to the entire denomination, and participation, both regular and occasional, by national leaders betrays any attempt to relegate this church to the fringes.

Granted the pastor is new and has not had an opportunity to be invited to participate in the fuller life of the denomination . . . yet. However, the history of the congregation's relationship with officialdom, her own record of 28 published books, and her self-identification as one of the most renowned communicators of her generation of Protestant clergy militate in favor of her future acclaim in ABC circles.

Some have argued that my illustration was flawed in that the newly installed pastor holds credentials in the UCC and that the church remains aligned with both the ABC and the UCC. However, the flashpoint a few years back over a senator in the Ministers Council involved a UCC ordained clergyperson serving a federated ABC/UCC congregation. Then, that minister had risen to become the chair of the ABC regional ministers council.

Now, my example shifts to the issue so often dividing American Baptists, human sexuality. While I maintain that the deeper cause of our conflict relates to divergent visions for Christianity, not merely on the hot button of homosexuality, the words of this same pastor will prove illuminating. Honestly, folks, even after including the excerpts from the unusually candid defense of abortion at the beginning of my last posting, I was unprepared for the statements made by the same preacher in the Gay Pride Sunday Sermon on June 25, 2006, "Love and Marriage Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage"


I would encourage EVERY His Barking Dog reader to study the entire text. A more revealing statement of what "diversity" really means in the ABC could not be found. In order not to take the preacher out of context, PLEASE read the entire piece and evaluate for yourself.

When interviewing a possible candidate for a church office position, the pastor ended the interview when the gentleman said that he "had no problem" working with gays because his son was gay. The reason?

. . . We are not people who "have no trouble with that." We are people who REJOICE in "that." We are not open and accepting. Or open and tolerant. We are open and affirming. Open and rejoicing. We like GAY and queer and all the initials that describe all "that." There is a big difference in these attitudes.

How does a truly Welcoming AND Affirming congregation differ from one merely tolerating diversity? By the way, who do you think she means when she speaks of "punishmentalists"??? And, exactly how does she propose to get them out of the way?

. . . On this Gay Pride Sunday, it is important to say out loud what that difference is. We rejoice in each other. We rejoice in human sexuality that is many faceted, beyond old male and old female and old ways. We are alive in the century that is going to break open all the old stuff about sex and marriage and horse and carriage. It is going to be mostly fun - especially when we get the punishmentalists out of our way. Right now we are in a nearly ridiculous struggle as the President pushes an amendment to the US constitution to prohibit gay people from being married.

At the root of it, the issue deals with structural evil and the stupidity of the American public:

. . . While the rich get richer, the very people whose pensions are being taken away to help the rich get richer are out in the street yelling ridiculous things about one man and one woman. The success of this substitution of cultural issues for political and economic issues is frightening. It says some very disturbing things about the American people. We prefer the false issues to the real issues. We are easily duped. We do bread and circus and watch our civil liberties go down the drain and our economic security follow it - and then we rant about so-called morality.

In fact, our pastor (new to the ABC after a long ministry in the UCC), sees the deeper issue as one of misunderstood "hyper=masculinity."

. . . What is the real issue, the issue behind the screen and the feints and the fakes and the spins? I believe the sexual issues matter because we are seeing the last gasps of hyper-masculinity. We are seeing the last hacking coughs of excessive masculinity, the kind that can't be penetrated. It can only penetrate. Only be on top. The kind that needs to be in charge. The kind that needs to control. The kind that is afraid of the power of its own strength. What we are seeing is the end of an old absurd kind of masculinity - and a new one breaking in. We see the new in lesbian couples who enjoy all kinds of gender roles from tender to tough. We see the new in men who are as female as they are male, as male as they are female, in outdated terms that can only be said in the past tense.

The comparisons between power politics and sexual behavior give rise to some interesting observations on things like capitalism and racism and human sexuality.

. . . Imagine what capitalism would be without its armies and its violence. It would be like racism without the KKK. Imagine if we begin in our own bedrooms with an exchange of penetrations. You do me, I'll do you. Imagine gender equality. Imagine just how far that would take us. We go straight to Romans: the whole creation has been groaning in travail, waiting for the day when nothing can separate us from the love of God or the love we have for each other.

The pastor's position on gay relationships leads her to shock at the behavior of the conservatives:

. . . The Bible loves good sex and good love. It has absolutely no stake in hyper-masculinity . . . The Bible is a book about love and it is simply astonishing that people would DARE to use it in such balderdash, bigotry, and bamboozlement as opposing marriage because it was not between one man and one woman.

But, like any good theologian, the pastor grounds her theology of sexuality in even more basic constructs like Christology:

. . . The second you really look at Jesus you see that he is gay, at least at the level of gender roles, if not behavior. No, I am not saying Jesus is Gay. But today, if he walked our streets, you bet we would wonder. He had no interest in masculine violence or aggressiveness. He is downright "girly." He used non-violence in a non-masculine way. He was beyond open to affirming of another way of being a man.

Taking a radical "Jesus view" will allow us to avoid the pitfall of making more of marriage than we ought to do:

. . . Let us please not make marriage more than it needs to be. Remember just how ridiculous an institution it has almost always been, what Amelia Earhart called an attractive cage, what Charlotte Perkins Gilman called a high priced insurance policy for women.

The trajectory of our reformation in social views will move to a whole new image of human sexuality.

. . . What this whole gay thing is about is, finally, gayness. The old kind. It is about restoring joy to love. It is about restoring marriage to love. It is also about an end to violence and its props and the beginning of an interpenetration and communion of men and men, women and women, women and men. It is about truly understanding the scriptures when they say, "the whole creation has been groaning until now." Waiting for the time when NOTHING can separate us from the love of God or from each other. Instead of responding, "I have no trouble with that, " the proper response is WOW.

For years the badge of identity in the ABC has been "diversity." Worn proudly in the biennials where one could always find those with rainbow colored ribbons and a few with American Baptist Evangelicals shirts, we have exalted in our commonality as the people who were proud that they could believe just about anything and still call themselves "Baptist."

But does this kind of "diversity" speak well of the organization? When the Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian church, you can be sure that party spirit and divisiveness was at the top of his list. And, those of us on the right must read carefully the Pauline dicta regarding destroying God's temple, the Church.

But, we must also remember his stinging condemnation of the spirit of those, so proud of their open-mindedness that they could not see moral issues clearly enough to speak definitively about them. Against those proud of themselves for tolerating an immoral sexual lifestyle, he railed: "And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you" (1 Cor 5:2).

When we ask churches for money for our national and international ministries, we sound like the denomination of "We Are American Baptists," a rather Christ-centered, Bible-centered denomination. That is the denomination Dr. Medley proclaims us to be. However, when we assemble in committees, boards, and upper echelon gatherings at the national level, sometimes we more resemble some of the more extreme views of the preacher cited in this post.

[His Barking Dog should not be confused with an official voice, person, or organization. My barks are strictly personal, in between gnawing at my own fleas.]

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

It is NOT About How Many Mommies Sally Has!

When those of us on the right complain about the problems we have with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, response from denominational leadership is often swift and loud. “You are making a mountain out of a mole-hill” would be about the mildest rebuke directed at us. “Surely the Christian faith is about more than homosexuality,” we are told.

Throughout the debates raging within ABC circles, many of us have protested that human sexuality stands as a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Our view of biblical authority and of Christology come closer to the nub of the matter than questions about whether Sally has “two mommies.”

Now a friend has forwarded to me an article written by the pastor of an American Baptist Church that makes my point for me. Although the congregation proudly identifies itself with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, one should note that this is no marginal church out on the fringes. For decades, the congregation has been favored by ABC leadership, often being the place of worship by some of our top denominational officials. For years it has had the kind of leadership that gets honored by the ABC, chosen to serve on the most prestigious boards and committees of the denomination, and invited to speak at special events.

The current pastor identifies her ministry as being “in an epic life-long battle with the ordinary church. We are a religious alternative in a world where most religious institutions have debased themselves by ignoring the erotic, the intoxicating, the profane, and the muddy . . . The battle is epic. We are both winners and losers. We play the game in a situation of constant epic rivalry with organized religion.

What caught my attention, however, was an unusual defense of abortion written by the senior pastor, a “58-year-old white woman.” She reveals that after giving birth to three children she “had an abortion nineteen years ago.” This she describes as “not bragging nor . . . apologizing . . . I am a mother of three children in their twenties and I am an ordained Christian minister.”

As she recounts her own pilgrimage and process of decision making, she says: “When I got pregnant with the child I call ‘Alma,’ which means soul, I did not feel prepared or ready for a fourth child. I chose, with some searching, to exercise my constitutional right to choose to end her birth.

"Why do I tell my story now? Because I fear that abortion rights may become even more restricted than they already are. I also find the very intimidation that I experience in telling my story to be the reason I must speak. Why would I be afraid? Because pro-life people like to punish others. Plus my editor warned me to expect a lot of heat. Should that fear replace free speech? I think not.”

One would not be surprised to find a baby boomer reporting on a past abortion. What causes the raised eyebrow, however, is her explanation of it.

“I did what was right for me, for my family, for my work, for my husband, and for my three children. I happen to agree that abortion is a form of murder. I think the quarrel about when life begins is disrespectful to the fetus. I know I murdered the life within me. I could have loved that life but chose not to. I did what I think men do all the time when they take us to war: they choose violence because, while they believe it is bad, it is still better than the alternatives. The Just War theory assumes that human beings get caught in terrible choices all the time. This freedom is not just for men; it is for women also.”

Admitting that the “decision” was not an easy one, indeed it was fraught with prayer, self-examination, and no small measure of anguish; she nonetheless concludes so matter of factly: “I made a choice. Adults make choices.”

You see, in the mind of this senior minister of one of our premiere ABC congregations (albeit a federated ABC/UCC one where the current clergyperson was originally ordained UCC), the abortion battle does not revolve around unborn babies at all. “Instead, it is about women and sex and about women and maturity. We are considered babies, sub-adults, in need of supervision over our sexuality. Otherwise we are dangerous. We are the virgin or the whore.”

Rather, regarding an act seemingly affirming her existential reality, she opines that, “When I made my choice to end Alma's life, I was behaving as an adult. I did not shrink from the responsibility of making a choice. I did not ask someone else to make it for me. And I certainly did not request the government's help in my bedroom. Instead I behaved as an adult who is also a sexual being. Things happen sexually between people that are not always controllable.”

While she admits to having named and wept for the life taken, she allows that while she “wanted her” she knew she “did not want her enough.”

The Rev. Dr. will concede that her choice to have unprotected sex was “adolescent, immature," and even “stupid.” But she hears in the debates over “killing our babies . . . the echo of people wanting to kill women's maturity and sexuality. I don't like it. That's why I am breaking my silence about who I am. I am a 58-year-old, sexual, mature woman. That's who I am. I had an abortion. I am not bragging and I am not apologizing.”

How does one respond to an argument like that? Coming from “one of the most widely published women ministers in the country, especially within the mainline church” (her bio on her web site), and the senior minister of one of our leading AWAB congregations in the ABC, it raises more than eyebrows.

Those of us who have been saying that our battle is not really about Sally’s two mommies but about biblical authority, may want to point to the theological trajectory, logic, and line of argument crafted by this “author of twenty-eight” published books.

The affirmation of homosexuality, while an important issue for most traditional Christians, does not come close to being the basic cause of our discomfort with the left. Our fussing and feuding over this one controversy has made it appear that evangelicals have no compassion for hurting gay people or that we are only too happy to talk about them rather than to them.

At the root of it, however, traditionalists hold to a two thousand year Christian tradition and the embrace of a number of key doctrinal verities. We confess that the fulfillment of our humanity comes in yielding our selves up to God, in recognizing that our lives are not our own. Indeed, we have been bought with a price. We are called to honor God with our bodies, not to declare ourselves autonomous lord’s over “our” choices.

The issue dividing us in the ABC cannot be reduced to “soul liberty” or explained as a simple tolerance for diversity of interpretation. We are proclaiming fundamentally different visions of Christianity.

The sincerity of the differences between the left and the right can hardly be doubted. Some of my favorite American Baptists disagree with me on any host of issues like these. My genuine affection for them is real. My conviction remains that they are acting in accord with what they believe to be the highest standards of Christian teaching as they see it. They deserve to be treated with respect. However, these are not insignificant differences!!! Again, what is at stake has to do with an entirely different vision of the essence and meaning of the Christian faith and cannot be easily accommodated within one big tent.

[His Barking Dog isn't smart enough to comprehend the finer points of theological discourse; that's why I choose to stand with teachings held for two millennia rather than make it up as we go along. My observations, however, reflect my own opinions and do not necessarily belong to any persons, authorities, entities, or organizations. My lone barkings are simply solo.]

Monday, July 10, 2006

God in Your Image???

Following in the tradition of "Mother, Child, Womb" or as my wife has put it, "Rock, Paper, Scissors," here is a graphic regarding the current controversy in the PCUSA (and several other denominations). It brings a chuckle and a tear to those of us on the right who have been watching the unfolding of a systematic revisionism among mainline leaders, such as some in the Presbyterian Church.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Survey Takers Grade ABC National Leaders

The General Executive Council (GEC) of the ABC conducted a survey online a few months ago. While the only "control" was a limitation against the same computer being used for "stuffing the ballot box," an amazing 2,343 people responded.

How did our Valley Forge leadership do?

VI. Leadership
A. 27% believe that our national leaders are providing strong and effective leadership on the most important issues facing our denomination while 57% do not.

B. 54% believe that our national leaders are failing to effectively address the needs and concerns of 21st century congregations 29% do not.

For a full replication of all of the responses as well as the limitations of the survey instrument, see ABC Views from the Middle ( For reactions to the survey:;

[His Barking Dog graduated from obedience school summa cum lucky. My blog represents only this old dawg's sniffing and scratching and should not to be confused with anyone holding my leash anywhere]

Monday, July 03, 2006

Why the Trinity is so Important

Why is the doctrine of the Trinity so crucial to Christianity? After all, not many understand it, most attempts to explain it stray into either the heresy of modalism or that of tri-theism, and the very concept arose in a time of strange Greek-dominated philosophy. What value does the Trinity have today and what relevance can it demonstrate in a postmodern environment?

"The doctrine of the Trinity is what basically distinguishes the Christian doctrine of God as Christian, and therefore what already distinguishes the Christian concept of revelation as Christian, in contrast to other possible doctrines of God or concepts of revelation" (Karl Barth)

When the story broke about the most recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), my wise and witty wife, Jeanette, heard the words, "Mother, Child, and Womb," and immediately responded with the line: "What's next, "rock, paper, scissors?" It was interesting to see veteran political cartonist Marlette, come to the same conclusion.

American Baptist Carl F.H. Henry rightly observed that our contemporary problems with the traditional formulation of the Trinity grows out of a deeper problem: "By its disbelief a large segment of Protestant theology severed the doctrine of the Trinity from the realm of devotion and socio-ethical and spiritual implications, and pigeonholed it as speculation and conjecture."

Bringing the elevated doctrine into the realm of the real world can be found in the combination of thorough systematic theology with pastoral warmth and devotional application in a Brakel's classic, The Christian's Reasonable Service. He puts the ongoing value of believing and proclaiming the Trinity in the most practical of terms:

Behold, must you not admit that faith in the Holy Trinity is profitable? Is it not the only foundation of a truly godly life and the fountain of all comfort? Therefore, consider God as being one in essence and existing in three Persons. Take notice of the operation of each Person in the administration of the covenant of grace, especially as it occurs within you.

If you may entertain appropriate thoughts, make appropriate comments, and have appropriate exercises concerning each Person of the Trinity, you will experience considerable and consistent progress in godliness. There will be a wondrous illumination concerning the unity of the Godhead as you consider each individual Person, and of the Godhead in its Trinity as you contemplate its unity.

If so much light, comfort, joy, and holiness may be derived from perceiving what is but an obscure glimmer of the Trinity, what will it be and how will the soul be affected when he may behold God’s face in righteousness, and awake, satisfied with His likeness? (Ps. 17:15). Then they will walk by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), and they will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). Therefore, “Blessed is that nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance” (Ps. 33:12).

In the face of such vital importance, revisionistic attempts at reconceiving God as "Mother, Child, and Womb" go beyond the trendy to entail a virtually new religion from orthodox Christianity. In such a world, why not go all the way to "rock, paper, scissors"?

[His Barking Dog doesn't claim to know much. However, I agree with Francis Schaeffer that "If I am living in a real relationship with the Trinity, my human relationships become more important in one way, because I see the real value of man, but less important in another way, because I do not need to be God in these relationships any longer." My musings are not only NOT godlike, but unconnected to any persons, authorities, or powers in southern California. I do, however, want to credit Jesuit Spy with the idea for this post]

REAL News from an Official Source on ABC Happenings

Wow! What a great summary of the recent GEC meetings! See Dwight Stinnett's blog for a balanced and objective report on the June GEC meetings and for a summary of the ABCUSA survey conducted online. The results were interesting, if not definitive.

For ABC Views from the Middle: