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.]

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