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.]


baptistlikeme said...

Hi Dennis,

Has Dr. Chetti's letter been posted online anywhere? It's not at the ABCLA site or the Southwest site as far as I can tell. Just curious for people not in the West Coast loops.

In related news, do you still have it on good authority that the working version of the Lancaster Document is public?


Dennis E. McFadden said...


To my knowledge, Sam mails letters to his pastors but does not necessarily post them on his web site (???). My copy of the "Dear Colleague in Ministry" of Sept. 5 was faxed to me by one of the pastors who received it this week.

As to the Lancaster proposal . . . I had heard that it was a secret document. Then a person from WV who read my blog (but was unknown to me), sent me a copy for publication but did not want to be identified. I responded by asking if it was public. He said that the EM of WV was discussing it with his board and that other EMs were sharing it with pastors in their regions. That sounds pretty public to me.

My understanding of the etiology of the document is that Dr. Chetti told his people at the annual region business session that he was the instigator behind the idea and enlisted his colleagues in the east to work on it jointly. Dr. Spitzer has been named as the primary scribe of the actual working draft. You have already posted the names of the signatories.

Lancaster did not receive a very favorable hearing at the April GEC meetings where it was brushed aside by Dr. Medley. However, in the summer session with Trish Jones, it became one of about five proposals on structure thrown out for discussion. My understanding (and you have already blogged about the Sept meeting I believe) is that they intend to come out of Sept. with a pretty firm idea of how to restructure the ABC.

The signatories of the Lancaster Proposal have been fairly optimistic about chances for success. Note, however, the discordant notes sounded by Dr. Stinnett in his blog of this week.

BTW, BLM, you be the man! Your blog is probably the most informative ABC related blog on the net. It is must reading for anyone seeking to know what is going on. Thanks!

Dennis E. McFadden said...


One of the signatories told me in a telephone conversation that the document was now public. I had forgotten that detail since it happened several months ago. If you want to be excruciatingly cautious, you might still treat it as privileged. However, the signatory told me that they wanted to keep it under wraps until the EMs could take it to their regions but that it was now a public document.

Italian-Swamp-Yankee said...

Here is what I see as options.
A "PSW church" can:
1) Opt out of ABC and go w/TM.
2) Be dually aligned w/TM & ABC.
3) Opt out of TM and go w/New PSW Assoc. and ABC.

Is it possible for a church to be thricelly-aligned w/ABC, TM, and the new and improved PSW?

Also, what happens to churches that do absolutely nothing--who gets first dibbs?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Today, in a meeting with his pastors, Dr. Chetti reportedly argued that "dual alignment" with the ABC and TM would be oxymoronic since the term ordinarily denotes relationships between organizations that are in fellowship with one another. He also explained that TM is essentially a parachurch organization rather than a denomination.

Since I am supposedly slated to come on the TM board later in the fall (and my pastor is on the committee to write the procedures for receiving congregations), there is a good chance I might know something sometime this fall. Ask me again then.

Tom said...

How does someone with a profile go about searching for a church in the former ABCPSW? Surely they have no acess to the ABPS system any more do they?

Dennis E. McFadden said...


Again, I have kept deliberately OUT OF THE LOOP of TM officialdom in order to preserve the truth of my disclaimers. Now, however, IFF I am put on the TM board, some of those answers will be available to me.

At this point, my understanding is that TM has been working on reciprocity agreements for placement with a number of regions of like minded leaders. If you were in a true-blue, loyal-to-the-bone region, you could probably pass your resume/ABPS form to Dr. Salico for distribution.

Italian-Swamp-Yankee said...

Your pic looks like a police sketch on Dog the Bounty Hunter. Are you wanted for multiple parking tickets?

Tom said...

Dennis, thank you. I did not mean to cause any discomfort. I believe Indiana qualifies as true blue as well as like-minded.

ISY, this caricature is what the techies at View From The Bleachers came up with. VFTB is my Cubs blog that I write on very infrequently. Actually, the image flatters me.

Italian-Swamp-Yankee said...

checked out your blogg -- a homerun!