Thursday, August 24, 2006

What About the Board of International Ministries in the ABC?

Someone recently asked me to comment on the short-term prospects for International Ministries in the ABC in light of declining dollars and the departure of the Pacific Southwest Baptists. The issue is complex, to be sure. However, PART of the problem relates to the continued uncertainty due to Rev. Jones' extended interim status. The aftermath of Hector's departure left some angry people on the left. Accusations of racism were rife. The IM search committee took a very long time before even beginning their search process to let things "cool off." This took its toll on forward momentum and single-minded pursuit of the goal. Now they are evidently prepared to put forth a name (although some have suggested political pressure to delay any naming of a replacement until early next year).

Of the four persons reportedly in the final consideration, all of them are capable and faithful leaders, several with IM experience. However, this represents a signal opportunity for Dr. Medley to make one more try at keeping the remaining conservative regions in the fold. And, on that score, none of the names (IMHO) promise a skill set up to the task. While their experience (regional EM, IM insiders, charismatic missionary) all reflect a partial package, NONE of them has the complete bag of tricks necessary for this crucial time in ABC history.

And, more importantly, I cannot imagine ANY of them being able to reassure conservatives thinking of bolting. At best, it may delay a wider schism. However, this would miss Dr. Medley's possibly LAST chance to put his right foot forward and to select an outspoken conservative to provide some semblance of "balance" to the very unbalanced tilt of very good (but predominately left leaning) folks at the top of ABC leadership.

For those of us in Transformational Ministries (aka APCPSW), it will probably not matter. Judging by my time with Dr. Salico last weekend in Hawaii, there will be no turning back for the southwest. Regardless of how many congregations Valley Forge can coax into remaining with them (and some of the political machinations by national folks have been enough to make an old fashioned Taminy Hall pol blush), Salico is set to move forward with a positive agenda for Gospel ministry in a new century.

Frankly (editor's note: this is my way of saying to readers that this is MY opinion and analysis unencumbered by ANYone official or authorized to speak in TM, Southern CA, or anywhere where the Bible is read and believed), selecting from the names surfacing so far will likely complete the move of TM away from ABC. Salico had negotiated a "partnership" agreement with IM to continue funding IM missionaries after the Nov 1 final date for withdrawal. However, IM will not be the only avenue of international partnership for TM. If BIM selects someone who represents "same old same old" in ABC politics (i.e., pretty much anyone on the list I heard), it may merely facilitate a quicker redirection of TM dollars to other mission endeavors.

So, bottom line: even though I no longer have a dog in this fight, with more than a half century in the ABC, I plead with Dr. Medley to make a savvy choice for the long term good of the denomination, even if it means asking the search committee to dig a little deeper in their bag of candidates.


[DISCLAIMER: my ONLY area of influence relates to the fact that I chair the mission board of my congregation which has been a "top 50" missions giving congregation. If the search committee proposes and Roy OKs a "same old business" style leader, my personal vote would be in the direction of examining our missions commitments more closely. However, this is just ONE person and ONE opinion in a very large denomination, not to be confused with any Dr. So-and-So of importance or entity in the southwest.]

Monday, August 21, 2006

A New Day for Baptists in the Southwest? YES!!!

Sitting at Gate 24 in the Honolulu airport waiting for a red eye flight back to Los Angeles and a round of management meetings tomorrow morning offers a bit of leisure to reflect on the fascinating and blessed weekend now just concluding in Hawaii.

The reason for my three day marathon was to chair an ordination council meeting in Hawaii and to attend an installation of a pastor at one of the most vigorous African American congregations in Transformation Ministries (aka ABCPSW). In order to save TM some money, I elected to skip a car rental and stay in an economy B&B. This meant lots of schlepping around with Dr. and Mrs. Salico.

During the past year, maintaining the integrity of my disclaimers, contacts with Salico have been kept to a bare minimum. I did not want him to be tarred unjustly with an excessively wide brush by those who believed (erroneously) His Barking Dog got its information from him. The necessities of transportation also put me in a lunch setting with the leaders of one of our Hawaii congregations, where it was my privilege to listen to Dale explain his vision for Transformation Ministries.

Oh my, what a difference a year makes! Dale has always been quite positive in his discussions regarding the denomination. But conversations with pastors are not always so upbeat. Yet, on Saturday not ONE word of criticism of ABC was uttered by Dr. Salico or others at the table. Such talk seemed as irrelevant as it was passe. His entire pitch for nearly an hour consisted in unfolding a bold and forward looking strategy for creating 21st Century ministries worthy of the Gospel. For the first time in my Baptist life, I found myself truly excited about the prospects of ministry in our Baptist fellowship and eager to be part of the action in some personal way.

In place of the painful wrangling of the past decades, the new word is one of joyful affirmation: YES!

Yes, we will create only such structures as are necessary for facilitating ministry in our new century. Gone will be meetings for the sake of meetings, and outworn modalities of managing ministries and running things through a cumbersome bureaucracy.

Yes, anyone in TM ordained by the ABC now will be automatically recognized by TM if their church affiliates with it. And, for those keeping a dual alignment with ABC, they have the option of considering themselves as holding an ABC recognized ordination or a TM recognized ordination.

Yes, we will receive four offerings each year. One will go to world relief (possibly through the NAE partnership recently entered into), one will focus on resourcing congregations and work in Transformation Ministries, one will deal with foreign missions, and one will create a ministers relief fund to replace the promised loss of non-contractual benefits by MMBB.

Yes, we are already providing for the endorsement of military chaplains, again through the NAE.

Yes, we are looking at ways to support Asian, African, Hispanic, and Native American ministries at home and abroad. Multi-ethnic works thrive in the southwest. If anything, TM will be able to be even more intentional in its support of these efforts following withdrawal from ABC.

Yes, we will continue to partner with the Board of International Ministries of the ABC. But, our foreign efforts will include sponsorship and partnerships in parts of the world now unserved by BIM. Congregations will have even more options and encouragement to act in ways consistent with their own values and priorities.

Yes, we will provide services to congregations in leadership development (e.g., L3 program), professional congregational assessment at a fraction of the cost of outside consultants, and not one but two tracks in stewardship education.

Yes, we will take our stand for the Gospel in the broad tradition of Protestant orthodoxy and Baptist distinctives. We will not be as narrow as the stereotype of cultural fundamentalists or as broad as the “anything goes” latitudinarianism of the mainline churches.

Frankly, the analyst in me had feared that southwest conservatives would find little ground for agreement once the identified “issue” of Valley Forge was gone. But, being part of an ordination council for a good and Godly young man on Saturday, participating in an installation with a vital congregation this afternoon where nearly 800 folks had heard the Gospel proclaimed this morning, and hearing Dr. Salico’s passion for new structures worthy of the Gospel left me excited and optimistic about the future of Transformation Ministries.

There will be many obstacles in the path of Transformation Ministries as it carves out its unique niche in the southwest. But, one thing is for sure: nobody cares about the fight with the ABC any longer. That is past history. Our corporate energies are focused on the future of God’s tomorrow and his provision for dynamic new opportunities today. If I were to sum up this weekend in one word, it would be “YES!” Soli deo Gloria!

[His Barking Dog did follow Dr. Salico around this weekend, catching a few crumbs from his table. However, the opinions contained herein were not cleared, vetted, or approved by him or ANYone in Transformation Ministries. Like some of the other dogs running in the rain along the windward side beach this morning, I’m simply yipping and yapping with delight at what God has done while playing in the surf.]

Thursday, August 10, 2006

ABC Progressive Reacts to Dr. Medley's "Call" Saying it Would Require Turning "My Back on Christ"

This month's Associational, the e-newsletter from the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, departed from the usual format of that communication piece. This time, fifteen letters of response to Dr. Medley's "A Call for American Baptists to Live Lives of High Moral and Ethical Responsibility," dated July 17, were reprinted. Most of them were respectfully worded, logically argued, and passionate appeals to Dr. Medley to clarify or retract his perplexing (to them anyhow) statement on sexual integrity and denominational diversity.

Perhaps none of the responses, however, carry as much internal institutional weight as that penned by Dr. Allan Newton, ABC executive minister and host of the Rochester Summit process. Answering the question poised by many in the blogosphere, "Why now?," he surmises as follows:

My sense is that this is a response to pressure from the more conservative elements of our ABCUSA family. This letter came without any forewarning to Regional Executives which has been the established pattern of recent years. It is as much a surprise for me as it is for most of you. My intuition about the reason is confirmed by the quick and vocal delight being expressed by my more conservative brothers.

Dr. Newton leads one of the most progressive regions in the ABC. His efforts to advocate for the AWAB cause, shelter AWAB churches from less hospitable regions (e.g., Granville, Ohio, a congregation that recently called a lesbian pastor, Rev. Dr. Kathy Fuson Hurt who comes to Ohio with her partner Jean) and shepherd the Rochester Summit have been notable for their courage and staunch advocacy.

Dr. Newton fully identifies with the cause to such an extent as to personalize it: "This is the first time I find the line in the sand drawn in such a way that there is no room for me and so many like me. There have been many other pastors and denominational leaders who have been drawing lines of exclusion but this is the first time such words have come from the mouth of the General Secretary."

Lest anyone doubt the theological and ethical resolve by those on the left, hear carefully the words of Dr. Newton when he equates disaffirming the GLBT cause with turning his back on Christ!

"I have shared with Roy that I cannot honor his call. To honor this call would be to turn my back on Christ which is something I will not do for any person. In my early years of youth I experienced such a profound affirmation of me, "just as I am" with all my faults and sins, that I cannot be anything but affirming of my GLBT brothers and sisters; to all my sisters and brothers. Jesus convinced me at an early age that my charge and mission was to love and not judge. It became clear to me that it was not up to me to determine who is inside or outside of the family of God. That was God's work. My response to that is THANK GOD! God put me in charge of my life and not that of my sisters and brothers. It has been my understanding that as a Christian I am to follow Jesus and the example he has set for me has been one of radical love and radical inclusion. I confess, I did not come to this place I stand easily without strain and struggle. Nor did I join this path toward affirmation of my own volition. I had to be convinced and God has been very convincing."

Clearly the notion of "radical discipleship" articulated by Dr. Medley more than a year ago at the Denver biennial has been fused with notions of "radical love and radical inclusion" for the cause of GLBT persons. And, as AWAB continues reporting increases in their ranks as additional congregations affiliate with them, Dr. Medley will face enormous pressure from both the left and the right to clarify exactly what he meant by his July 17 "Call."

Is this what Medley means when he says, "radical discipleship"? And, if not, what does he intend to do about it?

[His Barking Dog finds plenty of raw meat in the trashcans out back of the ABC. However, please do not conclude that it was given to me by anyone official or that it reflects any kind of official position by anyone in Southern California.]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On Not Becoming Custodians of the Status Quo

Reactions to my last post have been predicable. Much of what follows comes from one of my comments appended to that posting, now pushed forward as a separate contribution. Last week a friend of mine "tipped" me off to a discussion about His Barking Dog and your blogger being pilloried in another forum. This surprised me, since the people on that forum have always prided themselves as a point of netiquette and ethics not to discuss people by name that are not part of their conversation. And, some of the writers on that forum have bragged in the past about not reading this blog. The controversial nature of the column, however, drew their ire as well as their evident misunderstanding. Since this issue touches on so many points of Baptist life, a wider discussion may be warranted.

First, confidentiality remains an important value. However, the people bound to observe it strictly would be those who freely give their word to do so explicitly or implicitly (e.g., members of a search committee, a clergy member hearing a penitent, counseling, etc.). In the social compact that exists between the secret teller and the secret hearer, one’s word and personal integrity do matter. Members of a search committee have every right to bind themselves to secrecy and to require it of their members. A breach of that confidentiality certainly applies to the committee member and sometimes to the one who receives an intentioned “leak” of information from that person bound by their word. It is only with great difficulty that I can see how it applies to second and third tellings of information, particularly when the recipient of the information freely informs his source of just how it will end up in a blog after receiving such information in an unsolicited telephone call.

But, secondly, and more importantly for the point of my post, the “who” of the finalists matters very little to me. That is why names were not mentioned. I fully realize how easily a third hand piece of information may stand at variance with the truth. Furthermore, it would complicate the work of the search committee to have its candidates discussed openly. My intention was not to "out" the names but to offer observations on the dangers inherent in the field.

My point was to suggest that merely selecting a “good” candidate will not be “good enough” this time for the Board of International Ministries. Obviously an appropriate choice should have a rapport with our missionary force, possess the sound management and administrative skills needed to run a several million dollar enterprise, be blessed with visionary leadership gifts, and possess an ability to communicate easily and effectively with the congregations.

At this time in American Baptist history, however, more will be required and should be expected. In order to avoid the debacle of another conservative region withdrawing from the Covenant of Relationships, the person selected MUST be able to reassure the evangelical wing of the denomination. Indeed, if the new BIM executive is to be more than a placeholder in the denominational calculations, he/she should be able to handle the political world of Valley Forge and its corporate culture.

Despite the hand wringing by some of our Baptist brethren, my purpose in the blog was to give ADVANCE WARNING to leadership that this represents a signal opportunity to do better than merely filling a post with a qualified candidate for BIM. In the words of my prior blog, failure to heed this warning may have disastrous effects. Respecting my own evaluations of the names surfacing so far:

"They will be, at best, custodians of the status quo and hapless bystanders to further denominational decline. All of them are fine Christian servants with great track records of ministry; nevertheless, I fear that none of them should be selected to lead BIM at this critical juncture."

The key words were "at this critical juncture." The crisis of the moment calls for more than a typical, average, or even better than average choice. The job entails more than leading a program board. Any of the people being considered could probably complete that task honorably. Rather, the critical responsibility will be to reassure restless evangelicals to remain in the denomination. And, judged by that exigent need, none of the names leaked so far meet the stringency of that standard.

[His Barking Dog always barks, but seldom bites, but engages in both behaviors without any connection to official persons, places, powers, or potentates. In this case, my information did NOT come from a member of the search committee directly. And, curiously, all the names except one were on my own list of likely finalists for the post.]

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An Invitation from the Middle for the Right and Left to Leave and What Will Be Left?

In the continuing reactions to Dr. Medley’s recent "A Call for American Baptists to Live Lives of High Moral and Ethical Responsibility," opinions have settled into the predictable range of reactions, as one blogger put it, “cool suspicion, even dismissal, from the right and near hysteria from the left.” I am interested in the response by those in the center, specifically Executive Minister Dr. Dwight Stinnett of the Great Rivers Region and co-blogger of ABC Views from the Middle (

Stinnett writes one of the more thoughtful blogs dealing with ABC life and tends to be exceptionally candid and straight forward for someone in his position. Additionally, he can be counted upon to reflect rather than react, to reason rather than rant, to analyze rather than antagonize. In this sense, Dr. Stinnett’s blog offers helpful windows into ABC life for those of us not in the Regional Executive Ministers Council or General Executive Council.

Stinnett observes that Medley has been tagged as a flip-flop artist by some because of the perceived dissonance between his biennial sermon of last summer and his “call” of this summer. As Dwight puts it,
“One side doesn’t trust him because of it. The other side is scandalized by it and persuaded that it can only be explained by some dark, smoky room conversion (if not coercion) of Roy Medley.”

Contrariwise, Stinnett opines that the “call” is “fully consistent with what Dr. Medley said at the Biennial.” For those on the far right who he believes would like a denomination purged not only of homosexuals but “of their supporters” and those on the far left who seek a “universal affirmation of homosexual intimacy,” Stinnett predicts equal disappointment.

More to the point for those in the “middle,” he reminds his readers that “this denomination is disintegrating. It would be irresponsible for a leader not to address one of the leading causes of that disintegration, even if its very mention is offensive to some.”

The heart of his concern can be summarized by his own portentous words, carrying the power not of mere eloquence, but of solemn resolution:

“But I am persuaded that for some among us the differences are irreconcilable. Many of us have believed for some time that the only way forward would involve losing some from both extremes. I lament that. I lament the dozen churches that have already left my region, the thirty others that have threatened, and the even larger number that has disengaged. I lament 80 churches that left as reported at the last General Board meeting. I lament all the churches of the Pacific Southwest. I lament those departures even when I have not agreed with them.But it is time. It is time for those of us who are trying to define and claim a middle (if there is such a thing) to stand up and say ‘Enough is enough!’”

Dr. Stinnett may be correct. Perhaps shorn of a few nuts on the left and a few more on the right, the fruitful ABC tree will blossom forth into a virtual tree of life. Several concerns still bring me pause before embracing his dream of a down-sized Baptist utopia, however.

First, the organization is in continuing financial crisis. Declining receipts WILL drive the GEC to propose some kind of restructuring following their meeting with Dr. Trish Jones next month just as it has already produced a shift to once a year meetings of the General Board. Least likely would be Dr. Bob Roberts single board proposal. More likely would be something less daring than the radical Michigan recommendation of last spring to dismantle the Office of the General Secretary and General Board so that we could return to a pre-1907 polity model. Perhaps the Lancaster agreement (aka "National Table" or "Common Table") will form the basis for the new structure, or at least a beginning point for on-going negotiations.

Second, Rev. Charles Jones removed his name from consideration for the permanent post as head as the Board of International Ministries some months ago. Rumors leaking out of the search committee have suggested four names, most of them BIM insiders, one of them an Executive Minister. Each one of these candidates, if the reported names are accurate, brings impressive credentials and gifts to the table.

In my opinion, NONE of them, however, possess the skill-set needed to staunch the declining flow of red ink for the ABCUSA. One of them carries academic qualifications to be envied, but lacks the charisma to motivate church support. Another has great qualities of administration, albeit somewhat colorless leadership skills. Still another has a very high profile and plenty of personality, but seemingly lacks the corporate skills to lead such an organization or manage a budget of this size.

More importantly, if Dr. Medley wants to salvage what will be left of the ABC in this newly "right sized" medium-sized tent, he should have a partner in BIM who can reassure the evangelicals, handle the political in-fighting, and effectively manage the enterprise in a visionary manner. The names surfacing so far (and I pray that my sources here are in error) are simply not the kinds of people likely to make the transition successfully. They will be, at best, custodians of the status quo and hapless bystanders to further denominational decline. All of them are fine Christian servants with great track records of ministry; nevertheless, I fear that none of them should be selected to lead BIM at this critical juncture.

[His Barking Dog only knows enough missiology to remember the word "contextualize." So, please do not take my barking as anything official, unofficial, or back channel. These are merely my rabid mutterings.]