Friday, September 29, 2006

GEC Meets on Restructure; Agrees to Meet Again to Talk About It

This week the General Executive Council (GEC) of the ABCUSA met to discuss five proposals for the restructuring of the denomination. Principals were charged with thinking about and refining their ideas in order to emerge with a consensus. Pre-meeting assurances by several principals indicated that "one way or another" there would be a recommendation for a new structure emerging from the September meetings. Cynics predicted that the people who "broke it" were the ones proposing to "fix it." More than one GEC member had suggested to me that he did not anticipate any closure at this meeting. Dr. Medley reportedly lobbied some Executive Ministers prior to the sessions in order to garner support for his vision for the future.

So, how did they do? Evidently the pessimists were closer to the target than the optimists on this one.

The General Executive Council (GEC) met September 25-27 as part of an ongoing process to promote adaptive change within the denomination.

GEC members focused on three primary tasks during their meeting:
* The identification of criteria by which to formulate and judge a final proposal
* The recommendation of an interim funding plan for central office functions administered through the Office of the General Secretary
* Establishing a framework and parameters for the new structure

By consensus, the GEC members agreed upon the following proposal criteria:
1. Protect and secure the local church as the fundamental unit of mission by preserving historic Baptist freedoms and enacting a balance of autonomy and interdependence.
2. Demonstrate respect for ethnic/gender/cultural/theological/

generational diversity and inclusiveness in all processes and purposes.
3. Increase the potential for fundraising through United Mission and other sources.
4. Implement substantial cost reductions for General Board operations.
5. Enable ABCUSA to establish, celebrate, implement and monitor outcomes of mission and ministry.
6. Resolve the division over homosexuality or at least move the denomination forward on this issue.
7. Provide for commitment to clear accountability, holding each other responsible for maintaining covenants.
8. Provide central office functions for the denomination.

The GEC also endorsed the recommendation of the General Board Executive Committee to sell the Valley Forge property. This would generate substantial funds which could make funding for the Office of the General Secretary much easier to manage in a time of constricted donations and rebelling congregations.

Pursuant to the mandate to come back to the table prepared to select a structural proposal, the group decided that it was "evident that every proposal had substantial merit." Out of the five major directions . . .

Two proposals were approved as foundational and were augmented with ideas from the other proposals. The ongoing refinement may include elements of many or all of the submitted proposals as well as further refinements in thinking. The GEC named a transition writing team to continue to develop these elements, charging them with the following responsibilities:

1. Continue to refine and build upon the key elements that contained the greatest level of support.
2. Gather feedback on these elements from the General Board and others.
3. Cast an eye and ear toward prophetic voices that can help the denomination to adopt a structure more appropriate for the 21st century.
4. Shed unnecessary components in order to create the new future.

Transition writing team members are: Michaele Birdsall, Sarah Hallstrand, Desmond Hoffmeister, James McJunkin, Jr., Roy Medley, Larry Swain, Reid Trulson, Aidsand Wright-Riggins III, and Jeff Woods.

What are we to make of the outcome of the meetings?

First, the GEC represents too many factions and competing ideologies to cobble together a consensus on restructuring in any meeting lasting less than three days.

Second, the spin machine has already spun into high gear. The official summary of the meeting abounds in bureau-speak. But, one should at least credit the GEC with working on a new recipe for lemonade with all of the lemons of bad news coming its way.

Third, the selection of persons to work on the transition writing team includes several people with a heavy investment in the current order as well as some vying for a place at the table of the top echelon of ABC leadership. Token conservative representation includes perhaps the most congenitally cooperative conservative in the entire denomination. They are all good and smart people with a strong loyalty to the ABC that has been.

Unless the GEC meeting included radical conversions of views, one should not expect the final draft to reflect anything particularly radical or innovative, except in the sense of the kind of "radical discipleship" that Dr. Medley has been speaking of in a variety of venues, including last Sunday in the only AWAB church in Maine. In response to pressure from several Executive Ministers, he finally issued his "Call" to sexual integrity on July 17.

But, in an indication of how radical that call really was, Dr. Medley was able to preach his standard "radical" discipleship message, reportedly with no particular modifications, in the AWAB church. Evidently the meaning of his "Call" should not be interpreted as implying any particular threat (or even discomfort) to the AWAB contingent. Roy's presence in Maine will likely signal all of those on the left of the true nature of his finely balanced political statement in July.

[His Barking Dog sniffed around the garbage cans out back of the GEC and found few scraps from the banquet. Evidently it was a pretty spartan meal. Still, please do not interpret my gnawing on the rather meatless bone as anything other than my own opinion, separate from all of my masters in the southwest.]

"Durable Data" Cuts Straight to the Core of the Dispute

Most readers of His Barking Dog are probably also consumers of the constant comments of Durable Data's Dr. Glenn Layne. His post today was so outrageous and so interesting, that I am not only linking it, but reprinting it. Durable Data can be accessed at Sometimes people accuse us of making this stuff up. Even a satirist would have a difficult time conjuring up material this stereotypical! Glenn's evaluative comments are printed in blue and intersperse with the "straight news" report.

The question Glenn raises at the conclusion of his piece cuts to the heart of the current debate over "soul liberty" among Baptists. The traditionalists argue that soul competency was always cherished as a Baptist value, but never counterpoised to an overarching concern for biblical authority. Indeed, the "norming norm" of Baptist life was the "Book." For generations, the "Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope" were hallmarks of Baptist life in its manifold expression. Whether among the Particular (Calvinistic) or General (Arminian) wings of the movement, Baptists were agreed that a core of convictions provided the context in which soul liberty functioned and flourished.

The revisionist version of the Baptist heritage sees Christian experience as the "norming norm." Since E.Y. Mullins promulgated his reintegration of Baptist distinctives (closely followed in time by Walter Rauschenbusch) in the first decade of the 20th Century, soul liberty has emerged as a separate and virtually autonomous distinctive, unchecked by consensual commitments to a common core of orthodox values. Today, one can use the construct as a virtual key to open any Pandora's box of heterodoxy or rank heresy, as the following account testifies.

"When 'Soul Liberty' Attacks": Doctrinal Degeneracy in a Chicagoland Barely Baptist Church

OK, I'm experimental. This church, and this pastor, is not. Not unless you include hemlock drinking in the experimental category. Jesus didn't die to buy for Himself a bride who sleeps with other so-called gods. Read and weep...

Church to bring together 8 faiths in day of harmony
By Manya A. Brachear
Tribune staff reporter
Published September 29, 2006

In some ways, it was a traditional Baptist Sunday service. The pews creaked and groaned, and the congregation belted out a rousing rendition of "Down by the Riverside."

But when parishioners pressed their palms together and bowed their heads, it was not only a greeting to God but a gassho greeting to their neighbors in the pews--a Buddhist rather than Baptist tradition.

Blending Buddhist philosophy with the Baptist faith is not uncommon at Lake Street Church in Evanston, where followers of eight religious traditions--Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Ethical Humanist--will converge Sunday to celebrate their harmony as one in humankind and share Communion.

"Divinity is a mighty river that cannot be dammed up or stopped," explains irreverent Rev. Bob Thompson, 57, borrowing a quote from Meister Eckhart, a 14th Century Christian mystic. "We all do drink from the same river, but we package the water differently."

Celebrated by Protestant churches, World Communion Sunday calls for all Christians to commemorate their unity in Christ and the sanctity of the Communion table. Inaugurated by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1936, the worship service has been embraced by other denominations and is celebrated the first Sunday in October.

At Lake Street Church, a liberal congregation affiliated with the American Baptist Churches of America, Thompson broadened the scope of Communion Sunday after preaching a sermon about the tradition 10 years ago."

All of a sudden it struck me as so ironic the way we celebrate World Communion," he said. "Protestants get together in their own churches and think about each other while they're having Communion. What about the rest of the world? If we really believed in this stuff, we would invite the rest of the world in to share the Communion with us in the spirit of Jesus table fellowship."

[Note to Bob: please read again 1 Corinthians 10-11. Especially 10:20-22]

His approach reflects the autonomy that Baptists hold dear. They have what Thompson refers to as "soul liberty," freedom from a higher authority other than truth. But he acknowledges that Lake Street Church worships on the margins of the Baptist denomination.

"What we do here though on the margins is rooted in Baptist heritage, because soul liberty is inextricably part of our self-identity as Baptists," he said. "At least it was historically. Most Baptists have lost that awareness."

[Gasp! When 'soul liberty' attacks! Even Jesus must yield to the mighty god Soul Liberty!]

Rev. Larry Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, said Thompson takes interfaith relations to the next level.

['to the next level'= winner of the understatement of the day award]

He said that while joint worship services and community service projects are worthwhile endeavors, encouraging parishioners to examine themselves before examining other religious traditions can yield to a deeper connection.

"There is an interest on Bob's part about the deep wellsprings of every human being," Greenfield said. "He has explored that within himself and helps others within the congregation to do that.... That might seem unrelated to relating to other traditions. But if you go deep enough, you're going to find some connections. There's a kind of bonding between people at a greater depth than simply saying, let's do some rituals together or let's understand each other's teachings."

"Bob and the church understand they are part of a wider fellowship that doesn't necessarily do the ministry the way they do it," Greenfield added, referring to the 1.5-million member American Baptist denomination.

"But they are a very important part in contributing to our common life in dealing with interfaith sorts of issues."

Despite Thompson's unconventional ways, his path to the pulpit was common for clergy of his generation. His father, too, was an evangelical American Baptist preacher.

After college, Thompson entered seminary to avoid the draft, though he had no intention of following in his father's footsteps.

In the late '70s he landed at Lake Street Church. He opened a soup kitchen in the basement of the building and encouraged parishioners to form mini-communities that embraced other spiritual traditions.

A typical calendar includes Meditation Satsang, Explorations in Mysticism and Dream Sharing. The church's Light of the Moon Society meets monthly at the sight of the full moon.

[What? No Asherah Pole Dancing Night? No High Place Celebrations? As Jar Jar would say, "How rude!"]

In 1995, the name of the church changed from First Baptist to Lake Street Church. The congregation also welcomed gay and lesbian parishioners. Attendance has since tripled, Thompson said."People are here not because they resonate with [the Baptist affiliation]. We're in a post-denominational era anyway," Thompson said.

Cheryl Graham grew up Lutheran, studied in a Presbyterian seminary and dabbled in Buddhism, the Baha'i faith and the Unitarian Church before she heard about Lake Street. There she said she found a community of "Christian misfits" like herself.

"People come for Bob but stay because of the church," she said. "He tries to bring us as close to Christ as possible. He opens gates for all of us to be honest about our journey."

[Can there be any doubt that this church should be tossed out of the American Baptist Churches this time yesterday? If you even hesitate to say yes, you do not comprehend the role of fidelity to the teaching of Christ and His apostles.]

[His Barking Dog rides contentedly in the front seat of the car carrying historic Baptists, whether they be Calvinistic or Arminian. My tail wags approvingly at the common commitment to the Bible as the Word of God and the final authority for all matters of faith and practice. However, my ecclesiastical barking finds me chasing cars driven by the revisionists who would take "interfaith cooperation" to mean syncretism. Still, my yips and yaps are not the responsibility of my masters in the southwest; my barking is an artifact of my own personality only.]

Friday, September 22, 2006

ABC Organizational Scholar Briefs GEC on Upcoming Meeting

While I was driving by the corner of 8th and Figueroa in Los Angeles, I saw a guy selling oranges. He had run out of fruit, so he offered me a copy of some background reading going to GEC members for the upcoming meeting. In a few days leaders of the ABC will gather to discuss five different proposals for restructuring the denomination. He told me that “The guys who broke the system are the ones proposing the solution.” That sounded amazing to me. What do you think? What are the leaders who are planning to tackle the vexing issues of ABC structure next week thinking about now?

“Bolman and Deal suggest that conflict in organizations is inevitable due to varied individuals and their enduring differences regarding their values, preferences, beliefs, and perceptions of reality. Such conflict, however, only becomes intolerable when there is a scarcity of resources. I believe that this is what has happened to the ABC in the last several years. Whenever we collaborate to engage in a common mission or to support a local church, we spiral upward. Whenever we compete for resources, we spiral downward. Our downward spiral has finally necessitated the need for change. The only question is how to go about the process of change.”

Permit a little translation of bureau-speak. One of my programs in school was in organizational management, specializing in leadership and change. They gave me a degree in interpreting bureau-babble. The italicized words in this blog were all written by a scholar of leadership working for the ABC. He accurately assesses the current situation from the perspective of the literature and research current in the field, and suggests what he sees to be the seminal issues facing denominational planners.

What follows explains two of the leading models for understanding change popular today: the one associated with Harvard’s John Kotter and the other, Appreciative Inquiry, the method associated with Case Western University and utilized in the recent Seek It! process. Remember that Appreciative Inquiry was the tool employed by the ABC in order to come to a new overarching vision.

“There are two main schools of thought in today's literature regarding change. The first school of thought suggests that we must have a sense of urgency about our present situation. This is the "John Kotter" approach that has been adapted for use in many types of organizations, including religious ones. The second school of thought suggests that we ignore what is wrong and focus only upon the positives of the past. This is the "Appreciative Inquiry" approach.

Whenever two dominant schools of thought emerge regarding a particular topic, I usually sense that the answer is somewhere in between the two. For this upcoming GEC week to be successful, I believe that we must balance urgency and hope. Certainly an adequate supply of urgency can be found from even a brief perusal of our balance sheets, income streams, and survey data. Likewise an abundant supply of inspiration could be gleaned from even a minimal mention of our past American Baptist heroes and heroines of the faith. But we must have both. I believe that we must have the audacity to abandon what is not working as well as the courage to create what will.”

One of the leadership gurus who has met with the GEC and interpreted the data on denominational trends is a man by the name of Dr. David Roozen. He and James Nieman authored one of the more important books on the topic within a denominational context. Their Church, Identity, and Change: Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times (Eerdmans; ISBN: 0802828191) tackles some of the structural issues facing ecclesiastical modalities today.

“For the new to be implemented, it must be built upon the identity of the past and the relationships of the future. Roozen and Nieman suggest that denominations have five potential sources of identity, namely people, polity, practices, purpose, and theology. They further suggest that “Any one of these elements can provide the linchpin of distinctiveness.” A strong identity can survive a rigorous conflict, but the identity must come from a different source than the one which has given rise to the conflict. We indeed have sources of common celebration; the “Seek It” statement confirms that. But too often, we have focused on the unnamed pieces that divide rather than the named pieces that bond us together.”

What does our scholar in the OGS say he hopes will emerge from the meetings of the GEC after next week?

“Ultimately, whatever we produce must also be coupled with a renewed commitment to one another as we move forward. No structure can survive divorced from a people with a common bond and purpose.

I don't want to "return to" anything as a denomination, but rather "mature" into a denomination capable of helping its congregations become 21st century congregations responding to needs around them that were not present just a generation ago. I look forward to our time together next week.”

The Christian faith bristles with faith, hope, and love. Naturally, one would expect that denominational leaders would bathe their meetings in prayer and put the emphasis upon forward leaning proactivity. However, the New Testament also speaks about truth and purity concerns as well. In an environment where biblical authority has been under assault, whatever structures emerge will be meaningless unless the planners deal with the real problems, not merely the surface dilemmas.

[Still beset with a virus, His Barking Dog has little to do besides watching the reruns of "24" on DVDs and catching up on denominational matters via the Internet. My writing remains unassociated with any powers or entities in the southwest. I am, however, developing a real sympathy for CTU's Tony Almeda.]

Is it Really a "Shared Table" or Merely "Whistling Past the Graveyard"???

It will be VERY interesting to receive word of the meetings going on this month over denominational structure (under the facilitation of Dr. Trish Jones). Repeated reports claim 21 execs are on board for the "shared table," "common table," "Lancaster" proposal. One blogger, Baptistlikeme (, claims to have the most recent copy of the proposal, but is unwilling to post it for some secret (but he claims not nefarious) reasons.

I would be most interested to see how the execs would be willing to freeze out the AWAB supporting regions such as Evergreen, Rochester, TABCOM, etc. from the "shared table." IFF so, it would be a dramatic shift from traditional ABC culture which has always been unwilling to "hurt" or "marginalize" ANYone (other than traditionalists).

Perhaps some light can be shed on the issue by reference to a first hand account of a recent meeting with pastors in West Virginia. The Executive Minister reportedly encouraged them to see the "shared table" as the solution to our problems in the ABCUSA. As the pastor recounted:

However, as the meeting drew to a close it was apparent, to me at least, the direction that the leadership of the WVBC is going to move is towards the "Shared Table" concept (he stated that approx. 21 regions were showing interest in this concept). While I support this idea, as I currently understand it, as a re-organizational positive, I fail to see how it is going to directly impact the problem that we share as a national denomination. The question was asked directly to Dr. Carrico about how does this organizational change to a "Shared Table" impact the WABC situation and his response was that we would be aligned with like minded regions and that as far as the other regions were concerned we will still be ABC but they would not be welcome at our "Shared Table." He proceeded then to state that we must learn to get over this guilt by association attitude.

One of the interesting factors in the whole "shared table" concept, highlighted by the impressions from the WV meeting, is that in this dysfunctional family, apparently 21 EMs believe that they can solve the problem by looking the other way. "If we just whistle loud enough past the graveyard, maybe . . ."

How do they plan to exclude TABCOM, Rochester, Evergreen, et. al., from the fuller life of the ABC? Even if there are 21 votes for the "shared table," will the left-leaning GEC go along with a plan to subvert what so many in leadership believe to be a moral imperative of tolerance for diversity? And, how will this "shared table" function without wider GEC concurrence?

Even if a group of like-minded EMs is able to cobble together an informal alliance of traditional Christians in the ABC, how well continued participation in the ABCUSA satisfy the congregations unhappy with AWAB? Evidently, the answer from the EM cited is "we must learn to get over this guilt by association attitude." That sounds an awful lot like "If we just whistle loud enough past the graveyard, maybe . . ."

[His Barking Dog is home sick watching "24" on DVD. There is no truth to the rumor that Dr. Medley is really Jack Bauer. Ryan Chappel, maybe? As always, my disclaimer holds for this post as well.]

What Does the July 17 "Call" Mean? Evidently, Absolutely Nothing!

After reading the strong statement of July 17 (and the vehement reactions by AWAB voices), many predicted that Dr. Medley had alienated everyone. The August 7 edition of AWAB's Associational e-newsletter consisted of nothing but reaction pieces to Medley's "Call." And, Durable Data has already blogged ( this week on the PCBA response by Paul Hardwick .

Recently an executive minister explained to his pastors that the July 17 call came when he and a few other executive ministers confronted Dr. Medley and strongly urged him to write the "Call." Reportedly, Medley initially demurred, opining that every time he speaks out on this subject, it only serves to hurt those on the left. The report this month to the local pastors explained that the executives persevered, informing the General Secretary that the future of the denomination was at stake and he simply "had to do it."

Cynical reactions abound. Too little, too late for the conservatives and a slap in the face to the left. But, what does it really mean? A hint as to the implications may be discerned in a recent report in the Portland, ME, press. According to the Portland Press Herald, Dr. Medley will speak this Sunday at the Immanuel Baptist Church, Maine's only AWAB congregation (also affiliated with both the Alliance of Baptists and the BPFNA).
Rev. Roy Medley to speak Sept. 24 at Baptist Church
The Rev. Roy A. Medley, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches of the United States, will preach at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 24 at Immanuel Baptist Church.

Medley is the pastoral and administrative leader of the 1.5 million member American Baptist denomination, headquartered in Valley Forge, Pa. All are welcome.

For further information, call 775-2301. The church is across from the Eastland Park Hotel on the corner of High and Deering streets.

So, what did Dr. Medley's reluctant "Call" to sexual integrity really mean? Dr. Medley holds personal views on any number of subjects, those corresponding to General Board resolutions he will enforce on the handful of employees who work for the Office of the General Secretary. However, his seemingly clear moral call to live by the standards of the New Testament and the resolutions of the denomination functions as little more than a timid suggestion to be factored into one's thinking along with other weightier considerations.

UNLESS he dons the mantle of the prophet for his sermon in the AWAB church, the impact will be to signal his friends in AWAB that whatever he meant by his July 17 call, it has little to do with them. He will fellowship with them in normal backslapping manner as if nothing had been said. And, unfortunately, if you really analyze it, nothing real or important was . . .

[His Barking Dog has been unusually quiet of late. Part of this owes to an unusually heavy schedule at work. Another aspect relates to some outside studies for a science/faith course I am taking. Finally, my computer has been down. Rather than the dog eating my homework, it was the computer this time! Really! My yips and yaps are still unconnected to any of my masters who really try to keep my leash short. Blame me, not them. Bad dog! Bad dog!]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Alignments and Re-alignments in the Southwest and the Prospects for a Bright Future for the ABC

His Barking Dog has already reported on the upcoming organizational meeting to be held in Alhambra later this month to begin work on forming a new association of ABC congregations in the southwest, under the watchcare of the ABC of Los Angeles (aka LABCMS). This past week a lengthy letter was mailed from the regional office dealing with a variety of concerns.

Dr. Samuel Chetti, Executive Minister of the region, put out the letter under his signature on September 5, detailing a number of issues relating to regional policy and the future. He reiterated his presentation of November 9, 2005 where he dealt with LA City Mission Society's response to questions of homosexuality. Citing biblical texts, Dr. Chetti reminded his pastors that the regional board had adopted the 1992 ABCUSA resolution on human sexuality.

By way of implementation, Chetti listed regional staff hiring policies, staff and faculty personnel policies for the LA Baptist Jr./Sr. High School, representatives on the regional and national boards of directors, regional staff assistance with pastoral searches, ordinations recognized by the LACMS, and discouragement for pastors to perform marriage ceremonies for practicing gay, lesbian, and transgendered persons. Additionally, Chetti reminded his readers of a variety of General Board resolutions dealing with human sexuality from 1987, 1992, 2005, as well as Dr. Medley’s pastoral letter of July 17, 2006.

Chetti indicated that the ABCLA would offer watchcare for the congregations “in the former ABCPSW who choose to remain with the ABCUSA," including assistance with ordinations, pastoral searches, and American Baptist Women’s ministries. (In a presentation to his pastors today, he reassured them that the new association would be incorporating in the next few weeks in order to avoid any financial confusion or liability being incurred by the LA region).

Finally, he cleared up what he saw as “false information that is being circulated” regarding the current restructuring process in the ABC. He referenced the Dr. Trish Jones facilitated process leading toward a meeting in a couple of weeks, spoke of “about five proposals” being reviewed, and suggested that a final draft of the proposed structure will be available for review and approval by the covenanting regions before implementation.

Chetti has proven himself a stalwart centrist, conservative in theology while being innovative in methodology and cooperative in spirit with persons across the ideological divide, during his tenure as head of ABCLA. As a signatory to the Lancaster Proposal, he obviously believes that changing the structure and reaffirming regional commitments will provide avenues for positive and constructive ministry as American Baptists.

A very different interpretation of the prospects for restructure and reconciliation in the ABC has been given by the capable Dr. Dwight Stinnett, Executive Minister of the Great Rivers region in the ABC. Writing in his ABC Views from the Middle blog( this week, Stinnett openly agonizes over the struggles in the ABC and the toll it has taken on some of the key players on all sides of the conflict. What was especially interesting to me, however, was the tone of resignation with respect to reconciliation pervading his writing.

The practice of reconciliation begins with conviction—mine not yours. It moves through confession and forgiveness to changed behavior. Without this there can be no reconciliation. It is self-righteousness, if not sacrilege, to claim to be “bridge builders” when we have no intention to build bridges among ourselves.

I confess that I see none of these. Perhaps I am blind. Perhaps I am jaded. Perhaps I am moving in the wrong circles and looking in the wrong places. Perhaps 10 years is too long to be engaged in such a struggle at this level of intensity. Perhaps the best thing I can do for the cause of reconciliation is to walk away myself.

Lest anyone suspect that rhetorical devices camouflaged rather than clarified his point of view and that perhaps their might be a shred of optimism in the good exec’s prospects for the future, he speaks plainly enough when he writes:

I have all but given up my dream of community in my lifetime. And I think church without community is an abomination. God calls us to community, not autonomy. Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. Even now people ask me “Is ABC going to split?” Have they not seen? Have they not heard? The ABC has split and is continuing to splinter. (I wonder how they define “split.”).

Stinnett spreads the blame for the impasse on both the left and right equally, suggesting that no faction has clean hands in this area, and does not spare himself in the process. Ultimately, all he can do is grieve and call upon those among us smug enough to say “our side won” or “our side withdrew from ‘them’” to repent and to lament. And, as Stinnett puts it: “Our lament should go beyond rhetoric. It should involve sackcloth and ashes.”

[His Barking Dog yips and yaps and sometimes wails disconsolately in the night. Remember, however, that even those who hold my leash cannot make me behave all the time. So please do not blame anyone but this mangy mutt for opinions contain herein.]

Friday, September 08, 2006

How to Silence a Barking Dog. Invite him inside? Heaven’s NOT!

This month marks the one year anniversary of this blog, His Barking Dog. During that time I have endeavored to offer informed commentary on issues relating to evangelical practice, particularly in the American Baptist Churches. Definitely an acquired taste, not everyone has been happy with my yipping, yapping, and chasing ecclesiastical automobiles.

In all of my writings, however, I have endeavored to maintain a strict independence from the “establishment” in Covina. It was known to me that Dr. Medley and certain members of the General Executive Council (GEC) of the ABCUSA had blamed Dr. Salico for some of my writings and even accused him from time to time of being my “source” for supposedly insider information. My frequent disclaimers, therefore, were intended to draw a line of separation between my own personal ruminations and the Covina leadership or even my role as president of an ABC affiliated institution. Indeed, during much of this past year I have avoided speaking or writing to Dr. Salico for months at a time in order for him to be believed when he told the truth that he was NOT my source (not even once).

Yesterday I received a congratulatory e-mail from an executive minister from a far away region thanking me for my efforts over the past year with His Barking Dog. It is gratifying to know that some in the ABC, particularly those outside of Transformation Ministries, have appreciated my blog, simple as it has been.

Ironically, on that same day a person relayed to me that some time ago a nearby EM called the offices of Transformation Ministries to complain about me, to express his anger, and to direct the regional staff to inform me that he was upset with me. The staffer informed the EM that the executive was always treated positively in His Barking Dog and spoken well of. Unwilling to be party to such triangulation, the staffer wisely directed the EM to call me himself. The denominational executive refused, admitting that he would not call me and does not even read this blog “on principle.” Nor does he know what it contains except what he hears from rumors and other people. Since he does not read my stuff, at least he will not be upset to be referenced in this way. Obviously different people have contradictory reactions to my words.

Now my role changes. The nominating committee of Transformational Ministries has put forth my name for the board of directors of the new organization. Becoming effective later this fall, it will necessarily involve me in conversations and deliberations that should be privileged and others where my voice would not be the one authorized to speak for the organization. Will this silence the barking of the dog? Who knows! So far my barking has been safely outside the walls of the relevant structures. It may be a little more difficult to maintain that kind of distance while sitting on the board.

Does this mean that someone has found a way to silence the barking by inviting the dog inside the house? Time will tell.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"American Baptists Then and Now: Stumbling into Disorder" by Dr. Robert Meye

During the past few months, a succession of statements have been floating around in the blogosphere, underlining or appealing to "soul freedom" and "local church authonomy." Long-time American Baptist New Testament scholar, Dr. Robert P. Meye, wondered about the background of these words. So, Dr. Meye turned to several well known American Baptist historians to satisfy his curiosity. The following represents an unedited copy of his remarks, used by the permission of Dr. Meye.

Almost a half century ago, the distinguished American Baptist historian, Winthrop S. Hudson (Colgate Rochester Divinity School) offered an essay (especially) to the American Baptist community, “Stumbling into Disorder.” It was published in the first volume of the American Baptist historical journal Foundations in 1958. That essay, and others authored by Hudson, was republished by the American Baptist based Judson Press in 1979 in the volume, Baptists in Transition: Individualism and Christian Responsibility. The essays, singly, and collectively, were a red alert warning to American Baptists that the individualism reflected in the twinned “shibboleths” of “soul competency” and “local church autonomy” are disintegrating factors in American Baptist life.

It is a mystery that the wisdom of this volume, authored by a distinguished American Baptist historian, and introduced and endorsed by a second distinguished American Baptist historian, Robert Handy (Union Theological Seminary), and published by the American Baptist Judson Press, has had no impact on recent discussions about the way in which the American Baptist Churches/USA might or might not respond to churches and associations which are out of order in their blessing of homosexual practice in the churches, which practice has been disavowed by denominational resolution. In his essays Hudson shows that the pattern of appeal to soul freedom and local church autonomy does not match the historic Baptist DNA. Indeed, both Hudson and Handy, provide a clear look at the way in which Baptist thought has been subject to a philosophy of individualism, inimical to substantive biblical, theological, ecclesial, and a historically Baptist pattern of thought. Ultimately, Hudson suggests, this developing Baptist pattern of thought is not even subject to “rational considerations”.

The brief summary provided above is intended to recall American Baptists, on all sides, to take a new look at their own history. Not that American Baptist history is everything; before American Baptists there was the Lord of the Church, there was the revelation in Scripture, and there was the Church universal, of which the American Baptist churches are a part. Nonetheless, as long as all sides in the current debate appeal to the Baptist heritage (as well as the Bible, and Jesus), then all sides should keep themselves aware of what that heritage really is.

At this point, I want to provide a very brief sketch of some critical considerations in thinking about what it means to be an American Baptist. Hudson's book, and a volume co-authored with Norman H. Maring, A Baptist Manual of Polity and Practice (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1991), provide fuller details from within a specifically American Baptist context. Otherwise, there is a library of literature on the subject (see Maring/Hudson, Appendix 4).

I list here a series of observations, which can easily be verified in the works of Hudson or Maring, as well as other Baptist historians.

--Baptists have always considered themselves to be a part of the larger Church, and even when breaking ties with a parent church, were quick to demonstrate their kinship in the Christian faith with that church.

--In breaking with a parent church or body, Baptists made their own like affirmation of the rule of Christ and the authority of Scripture standing over all that they believed and practiced.

-- At the same time that they were severing themselves (or being severed from) from one body, they formed themselves into a new body (of believers), albeit with different polity and practice. Like the established churches, the new Baptist body produced articles of faith, catechisms, confessions, and covenants-and hymnals.

--A critical part of the concern that brought the Baptist movement into being was the understanding that true belief must be from the heart (thus, believer's baptism) and thus cannot be coerced. Belief and practice must not be coerced at the individual level in the local church, nor upon a local church by a larger church body.

--This Baptist understanding has historically led Baptists to become champions of liberty, in many venues and forms.

--At the same time, it was understood that members of a given Baptist body or association, having joined that body or association on a voluntary basis, had also voluntarily given themselves to living according to the pattern of doctrine and order established by a church or association.

--Baptists understood that individuals and churches needed nurture, admonition and discipline to live in a fullness of obedience to Christ and the Scriptures. Neither individuals nor churches could “go it alone”.

--It was understood that even though you could not force an individual or church to believe or practice in a certain way, the refusal by an individual or church to live according to the doctrine and rule of the body was tantamount to severing one's ties with the body. When necessary, excommunication or dismissal was used.

The Transition . . .

The Baptist movement in America was naturally kindred to the movement of British Baptists in the beginning. But as time went on, the Revolution, Enlightenment inroads into Western thought, and the impact of Jeffersonian individualism-among other factors--made their impact upon American Baptists. Robert Handy, in his introduction to Hudson's Baptists in Transition, details five factors (among others, as he notes!) contributing to the deep inroads of American individualism into the life and thought of Baptist (and other) churches.

The resultant scenario is something like this: When one reads Hudson's review of some of the better known, recent literature on Baptist polity that has shaped the Baptist mind, one has the sense of being introduced to an alien (not historically Baptist) land: The literature is not denominated by established biblical, theological, or ecclesial patterns of thought; rather, in the end, individualism reigns supreme. Until, in the end, explications of polity sound more like a note out of political philosophy than New Testament theology or Christian ecclesiology. One prominent author shaped by a philosophy of individualism (McNutt, Polity and Practice in Baptist Churches; published by the American Baptist Judson Press in 1935, and republished in 1959) himself observed that “as a result of the findings of the psychologists and sociologists, 'clear thinking reveals no such thing as the individual in society, neither can it discover the strictly independent church.' “ Hudson describes this as “curious note of ambiguity” in McNutt.

Again, in Baptists in Transition, Winthrop Hudson issues (pp.50-51) a red alert warning that the seeds of disintegration are contained within the twinned doctrines of soul freedom and local church autonomy-this the judgment of a most eminent American Baptist historian.

Robert Meye

[His Barking Dog counts it a privilege to scrounge around Dr. Meye's garbage out back of his house. More than once I have been treated with a theological or historical gourmet delight for my trouble (the man sat under Barth for heaven's sake!!!). However, never confuse my barking with the master of the house. Reprinting some of his stuff still doesn't make him responsible for my theological mange or polity distemper.]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

One Step Closer to Schism or an Amicable Separation Over Mission?

One Step Closer to Schism or an Amicable Separation Over Mission?

For those living in the land of denial and harboring thoughts of an eventual reconciliation between factions in the ABC, a sobering reminder was published, dated September 1, under the signatures of Dr. Alonso Cooper, Dr. Joe DeRoulhac, Rev. Jose Guerro, and Rev. Jim Kilinsky. Flying the banner of the Association of American Baptists in the Southwest, the new group will have its organizational meeting on September 30 in my town of Alhambra, CA. Already they are anticipating their first annual meeting to be held in May of next year.

The tone of the letter resembles very much the pen and voice of the good and Godly Dr. DeRoulhac. Never mentioning the former ABCPSW by name, the writers speak of the diverse ways in which faithfulness to God’s call may be interpreted. “For some, holding fast will mean departing from the Covenant of Relationships that supports the mission enterprises of the American Baptist Churches, USA. For others, it will mean committing anew to this historic mission and building those relationships that will empower us as stewards of this continuing global witness and ministry.”

His Barking Dog can only pause to praise the Lord for the high road being taken by both the leadership of Transformation Ministries (formerly ABCPSW) and the Association of American Baptists in the Southwest. Neither group has descended to name calling, bitter acrimony, or trading charges in anger. Seemingly well schooled in the ugly lessons of past denominational separations in the last century (e.g., GARB, and CBA), they appear intent on being about what they are for and not what they are against. Both groups seem mission focused and intent on staking out their niche in the realm of moving forward with the cause of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!

[His Barking Dog chases denominational cars and sniffs theological strangers, much to the embarrassment of his master. Please do not attribute my behavior to anyone or any entity in Southern California. I was brought up better, but it is "just my nature."]

Saturday, September 02, 2006

ABC of Michigan Weighs in on the Disfellowship of Flint Congregation Over Homosexuality

Glenn Layne's Durable Data has been reporting this week on the disfellowship vote taken recently by the association in Michigan to distance itself from Woodside Church of Flint. Now the ABC-MI has stepped in with a letter from their executive committee. Under the signatures of Larry Ward and Ed Pedley, they have grounded their response in the technicalities of their own regional Bylaws. Both His Barking Dog and Durable Data anticipated action in this direction and were unsurprised by it.

The text of the relevant portion of the Region Bylaws affecting the Committee's decision is in this online document: The entire Bylaws are in this online document: And, the actual "Executive Committee Letter" can be found at

In brief, the executive committee of ABC-MI is putting forth the following points for action at their September 9 meeting:

1. "Recognize the North Area majority vote to remove the Woodside Church from the North Area;

2. Observe the ABC-MI Region Bylaws which permit the Woodside Church to affiliate with another ABC-MI Area;

3. Recognize, in accordance with ABCUSA General Board policies, the right of the Woodside Church, if unable (or not interested) to affiliate with another ABC-MI Area, to seek or not seek affiliation with another ABCUSA Region. The Woodside Church has eighteen months, from the time the ABCUSA General Board acts on the 'Churches in Changed Relationship' report to petition another ABCUSA Region for membership if they so choose or otherwise will no longer have affiliation with the ABCUSA."

By handling the matter in such a narrowly construed manner, the leadership of ABC-MI has attempted to "be faithful to our ABC-MI Bylaws and to the ABCUSA Covenant of Relationships to which the ABC-MI is a covenanting partner." But, admitting that these are strange times indeed, they also allow that "our life together (koinonia) as American Baptists both regionally and nationally is not easy and is being sorely tested" and openly solicited "continued prayers as we near the September 9 Region Board meeting."

At this point the Woodside congregation has a number of options if it wishes to remain "baptist." The church might elect to affiliate with the Alliance of Baptists which already has a progressive statement on human sexuality in accordance with the existing Woodside position. They might seek to find a more theologically harmonious association within the state of Michigan with which to affiliate. Or, they may elect to request a non-geographically contiguous region to accept them into fellowship. Berkeley (CA) finds a home in the ABC of Wisconsin; Granville and Oberlin (OH), University Baptist and Judson Baptist in Minneapolis (MN), and San Leandro's Community Church (CA) all enjoy their fellowship with the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region of New York State!

It should not escape notice (as a Baptist blogger has already noted in another forum) that Michigan was the region voting last year to recommend (by a 19 to 1 vote as I recall) to dissolve the ABC into a pre-1907 structure sans General Board, General Secretary, etc. Regardless of the politics, if the Michigan board upholds the recommendation of its Executive Committee on September 9, the General Board of the ABC could be faced with a very hot political potato. With with exit of Transformation Ministries (aka ABCPSW) and the prospect of further defections, accommodating Woodside Church will only serve to exacerbate the conflict. Yet, having set the precedent with Berkeley, Granville, Oberlin, San Leandro, etc., on what principled basis could the GB demur?

[His Barking Dog is more of a loyal and harmless lapdog than a ferocious pit bull. Nevertheless, for the benefit of my readers, please do not misconstrue my yips and yaps as anything other than the behavior of an over-eager, but toothless, guard dog acting on his own initiative to sniff out and bark at strangers at the door. My column contains NOTHING official from anyone anywhere at all.]