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.]


Glenn Layne said...

So who's in the Middle? Is there a real middle? The only ones who are in the middle are theological dwarfts, whose only alligence is to the denomination itself, which in effect makes them theo-left allies. My contention is that there is really is no effective middle.

Bills Blog said...

AMEN to Glenn's comments no further commentary is needed. I can hear the fat lady!

Italian-Swamp-Yankee said...

Why would Dr. Medley placate the middle?

These bunch of "don't ask; don't’ tell" churches, mostly Wonder Bread churches, overvalue diversity and emphasize the social gospel. They are probably multigenerational AB churches where membership standards have tremendously lightened. The middle church probably pays the bulk of their bills with yard sales, old endowments, denominational help, a big donor with great influence, but defiantly not tithes. They probably sit in tons of board and committee meetings talking about what they plan to talk about. They probably mistake sitting in those meetings with actually doing ministry. The pastors probably have short tenures.

This picture of a middle-of-the-road AB church is painted with broad strokes but is probably accurate for many. As much as I don’t like radical, theologically left churches, at least they are passionate about something. The “don’t ask; don’t tell”, diversity-loving, middle churches are listless—yawn, yawn, and yawn. Why would Roy go after the middle who are neither hot nor cold? Did a General Secretary from another mainline denomination make a bet with Roy to see who can make their denomination more boring?

revdrron said...

Mr. McFadden’s Christian retirement home could have a heyday recruiting folks from the middle of the road AB churches pictured above by Mr. I-S-W.

greetings, ron

Amill-Presup said...

I'd consider my church of the middle (although I'm probably not of the middle. For once, my church has a pastor who is more conservative than the majority, rather than one who is waaaay off to their left theologically).

I proclaim homosexuality as wrong, but agreeing with me is not required in order to be in fellowhship (or even leadership).

We do value diversity--racial, national, and yes, theological (go back to the Rhode Island Charter to see if this is new).

Of course we're multi-generational. Who would want to be part of a church that wasn't?

Membership standards are high. I personally interview everyone (and we've been growing a lot lately) and help them work through areas of difficulty where their doctrine doesn't match the plain teaching of Scripture.

We have been in the black financially for four years in a row now. No help from Valley Forge or Lansing. For our new elevator (a couple years ago) and A/C (please, Lord, by next summer), people dig deep and give till it hurts because they love the church. Still, thank God for the "old endowment" that kept the church afloat during the last pastor's tenure.

We have minimal representation in region and national ABC boards.

Our own ministry teams are split equally between "talkers" and "doers," but we get more real ministry and evangelism done than any other church I've been part of.

The Last three pastor's tenures at our church have been six years, nineteen, and fourteen. God willing, I'd love to stay thirty.

We may be "in the middle" of the current controversey (here's where I insert my own "yawn, yawn, and yawn"), but I believe our Lord would spit out any of the far-right-leaning churches I've been a part of before he would decide we were neither hot or cold when it comes to Him and His Gospel.

I guess when it comes to describing huge groups of churches, I should change my name to "Amill-Evidentialist."

Italian-Swamp-Yankee said...

Your description is a good one.
You are a blessed people.
One of my favorite books is Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers.

I guess when I think of Roy reaching for middle churches, my description is whom I envision. If I visited your congregation I would probably sense it more traditional. I am sad conservative evangelicals (welcoming and trasformings) have been moved so far right of center instead of considered THE center.

Here's my Worldview
Far Left: Welcoming and affirming (in your face liberalism)

Left: Don't ask; don't tell (don’t push the issue)

Center: Welcoming and transforming. (Biblically addresses in love/humility)

Right: Welcoming and not transforming (conservative church growth; biblical understandings with no ministry counseling for these people—they ultimately leave)

Far Right: Not welcoming and not transforming. (probably own picket signs)

It's good to be centered (if only for a minute).
Appreciate your energy, keep the faith AP.

roy said...

I fear there is a lot of truth in ISY's first description of the middle...

I am part of ABC by choice and part of what drew me was the theological diversity. I deeply value many of those with whom I disagree (ask Dennis) and count on their insights to keep me honest. If Roy is truly inviting the left and the right to leave... he is destroying the very strengths that brought me into this denomination, which keep me here, and which keep me fighting/hoping that we can become more than what we are right now or have been for some time.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

A friend of mine "tipped" me off to a discussion about this blog in another forum. This surprises me, since the people on that forum have always prided themselves on not discussing people by name who are not part of their conversation.

Dealing with "the issue," however, several points can be made:

1. I did not speak with a member of the search committee (the only people pledged to secrecy). Indeed, I informed my source the way in which it would be used in this blog.

2. Because I am NOT on the search committee, my comment was that "I pray that my sources here are in error," recognizing that second and third hand information may or may not be true.

3. Despite the hand wringing by some of our Baptist brethren, my purpose in the blog was to give ADVANCE WARNING to VF that picking merely a "good" candidate for BIM is not enough at this time. In order to avoid continued losses of churches and regions, BIM should select a candidate able to reassure the evangelicals in the ABC in addition to other skills (sound management of a multi-million dollar budget, visionary leadership, good relations with the missionaries, ability to represent BIM well in the churches). Incidetnally, these are exactly the things I shared with Dr. Medley in his hotel room mroe than two years ago (along with a couple of names of midwest/eastern American Baptists who might make splendid candidates who DO fulfill the full set of qualifications referenced above.

4. My intention was not to spill names. That would needlessly complicate the search committee process. But, the responsibility of secrecy applies only to the committee members, not to outsiders who guess or get told by committee members who candidates are. In my case, the names shared with me were from a non-search committee member and, with one exception, were exactly who I would have predicted to be the finalists.

Bills Blog said...

Those other folks can worry, fret, sit in disgust over the "ethics" of blogging this stuff but who cares? Jerrod Hugenot and others in the Roger Williams Fellowship have contributed more to the demise of the denomination than others. Their revisionists views on soul liberty, Baptist autonomy and confessionalism has gutted the Baptist tradition. They forced their way in through the GB and revised standing rules and denied the proper associational principles and basically told regions like GHC that they were wrong in the dismissal of the four churches. They have repeatedly looked on in favor of the AWAB groups and with great pride allowed them to serve on nominating committees and other national boards and committees. Dan Weiss was a willing accomplice and as we all know they are quite willing to sacrifice all of the evangelicals on the altar of tolerance in order for their so-called "unity" to continue.

I am so disgusted at this mess that I could puke. (have fun with that one)The left-wingers are getting what they deserve. A denominational that will be much smaller, weaker spiritually, financially and missionally. They have so bastardized the name Baptist and what it originally stood for that its no wonder churches, regions, organizations are removing Baptist from their name. AS popeye says, I have all I can stands and I can't stands no more.

Amill-Presup said...

I sympathize with much of what you wrote. A question and a comment:
1.) Who exactly do you mean when you say "evangelicals" (i.e. in the context of "sacrifice all evangelicals"?
2.) I don't think you're correct about the motivating factor behind the recent blitz of churches dropping the name "Baptist." My experience has been that most churches dropping the word Baptist are looking to lose quite the opposite stigma: the hellfire and brimstone KJV-only picture of a Baptist, as well as appearing more ecumenical and welcoming to the people in the neighborhood.

roy said...

Well HK... I would agree with you that the revisionists have gutted the Baptist tradition... but we would differ on who the revisionists are.
FWIW, my congregation removed "Baptist" from its name 2 years ago because too many people in our broader community associated that word with the folk I would call revisionists - folk like the SBC, ABE, etc.