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.]


Amill-Presup said...

Please tell me, Dennis, that I am hearing some hope--even a small amount--about the possibility that the ABC may yet be redeemable and a conservative exodus not unavoidable...(?)

Bills Blog said...

Dennis why would you want to sit down and negotiate an amicable separation? We still have a denomination thats virtually useless. Leaders who can't lead. What for? Just so you can have your denomination? Belonging does not substitute for reaching a world that needs Jesus.

Dennis E. McFadden said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dennis E. McFadden said...


Since you have already declared what you think of my opinions (e.g., the tone in my blog makes you want to "puke" 6/27/2006 11:54:06 AM and you believe I can't stand the thought of the "awful, liberal, outdated ABC" surviving without me 6/27/2006 7:31:37 PM), you are probably looking for hope in all the wrong places in this blog.


Amill-Presup said...


(dang it,how do you make the little thing over the "e"?)

However, for the record, the only thing that has made me want to puke from your blog or most of the conservative separatists in the ABC is when I hear a gleeful "ha-ha, I told ya so, it's really happening" tone when describing the crumbling of the denomination.

Dennis E. McFadden said...


Fair enough. 30 years of frustrations working "within the system" may have given way to a bit of nihilistic pessimism on my part. However, please do not EVER interpret my words born of hurt and frustration as gleeful. This has been THE most painful couple of years of my life. The words have more of a plaintive whine than a laugh in them. Blogging and message board posting have been my therapy to work out my own demons over all of this.

On the point of hope . . .
HAD Roy made his statement at the biennial (and meant it), I do not believe that there would have been the will or the vote for PSW to withdraw. Salico spent YEARS as a "company" man who ALWAYS justified ALL things ABC, almost to the very end. Although he got pressure from his pastors, he was a willing (but VERY reluctant)leader of the exit ONLY after ALL of his appeals to the REMC and GEC fell on deaf ears.

At this point, some of the conservative regions look poised to wait for the IN/KY resolution to wind its way through the labyrinth of the GB. IFF Roy is able to follow up his strong statement with consistent action, I would be surprised if other regions followed PSW. Frankly, if Roy is able to act the way he sounded, I'm not sure PSW will follow PSW.

IFF the far left is such a small group that CANNOT accept Roy's centrist statement (while the right clearly can if followed by consistent implementation), and IFF the far left is already exploring life-boat strategies with the Alliance, etc., THEN, why not ask a few hundred to leave for the sake of the "family" (= 1.4 million!!!)?

But, here is the catch: do YOU really believe THAT can happen in our corporate culture? Sometimes I think they believe it is better to lose the whole show by attrition than to act decisively and amicably by intention and admit that there just may be some boundaries to the big tent.

Dennis E. McFadden said...


Postscript to the last reply . . .

Sans AWAB (both the official body and the ones who advocate their hermeneutics so noisily), the conservatives can live happily in the ABCUSA. By definition the majority in the middle are also happy. So, the real question relates to what some keep slamming me for as being such a "small group." If it REALLY is such a mouse, then deal with it, don't sacrifice the whole denomination.

[Obviously, we should also discuss the contours of post-denominationalism in America and the implications for ANY of the existing modalities in place]