Sunday, April 01, 2007

ABC Gears Up for Restructure Proposal: GEC Meeting in Tucson to Consider Work of Writing Team

Last year the General Executive Council (GEC) of the ABC tasked a “Writing Team” with the responsibility to draft a restructure proposal for the reorganization of the denomination in order to face challenges in this decade and beyond. Financial constraints in the various regional judicatories, dissent over certain hot-button social issues such as homosexual unions and ordination, and a general downward trend in the United Mission receipts added urgency to that mission.

While those asked to participate in the group evidenced attempts at reflecting diversity, insiders report that the leading voices in the effort have been those of General Secretary Medley, Executive Director of National Ministries Wright-Riggins, and Associate General Secretary for Regional affairs Jeff Woods.

Denomination watchers will do well to observe carefully the Tucson meeting of the GEC in order to gather an idea how the national body intends to deal with the problem of declining funds at the national level, continuing dissent over the leadership’s handling of issues of human sexuality, and the challenge of too many judicatories operating on shoestrings to be either efficient or effective in conducting their ministries.

This morning a member of the national leadership sent me the following note:

I have heard that they are thinking about assessing all the institutions related to the ABC an amount to support the OGS . . . You know that the first priority after we all hold hands and sing that stupid song that I refuse to mention, is going to be how can we make you pay for the new organization that you all agreed upon? It is going to be fun to watch the attempted manipulation of the GEC. Some will be near orgasmic with excitement while the members with a brain will be braiding a rope in the back of the room. I'll bring the rope, someone grab a chair.

Another national leader on the inside projects that the new structure “being proposed by Roy, Jeff & Aidsand” will swiftly be followed by a re-examination of the Budget Covenant. This observer suggested that “if they get their way they will find a way to force the Regions to finance it.”

The range of ideological diversity in the denomination may ultimately prove too much for a loose federation of semi-autonomous congregations. A few weeks ago the Association for Welcoming and Affirming Baptists helped sponsor a seminar held at Andover Newton Theological School. The event was also endorsed by The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts, The Samuel Stillman Association, the American Baptist Churches of Rochester-Genesee, the Roger Williams Fellowship, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the FBC of Framingham (MA), and the FBC of Greenfield (MA). According to AWAB, the latter congregation is experiencing a violent reaction of a significant minority of the church following calling a gay man as pastor.

Billed as “Revive us Again!” it attempted to satisfy the following ambitious agenda: “This is a gathering of progressive Baptists from around the country, ready to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are gathering to say that we are Christian, we are Baptist, and we believe our Baptist Principles are foundational to our understanding and sharing of the Gospel. We are gathering to say that we can be both progressive and evangelical.”

The speakers invited certainly lived up to their billing as “progressives.” They included pastors, professors, and ABC denominational leaders who hail from the left end of the spectrum. For example:

Rev. Cynthia Maybeck, Pastor, Trinity Church, Northborough, MA. The Pacific Southwest withdrew from the ABC as a result of a process that began with objections to Rev. Maybeck being named a senator at the ABC Ministers Council. Her 17 yr relationship with her partner, Elaine (now her spouse), caused ripples in the Southwest that kept reverberating.

Dr. Bill Herzog, Academic Dean, Andover Newton Theological School. One of my former youth pastors when I was a kid, Bill is the brilliant (Harvard, ABSW, Claremont) Dean at ANTS. Famous for his “Busted Boda Bags” address to the progressive Roger Williams Fellowship at the 2005 Denver Biennial, he roundly castigated evangelicals in the ABC, calling them Pharisees and worse. But, hey, this is the same guy who argues that the hero of the parable of the talents is the guy who buried the money. He was a “whistleblower” striking out for justice against the unjust landowner.

Rev. Dr. Gregory Mobley, Professor of Hebrew Bible, Andover Newton Theological School. Again, another brilliant Harvard grad, Mobley has a richly deserved reputation for scholarly excellence and has received numerous awards. His recent 2005 volume, The Birth of Satan, however might excite some disagreement among those of us on the right.

In it he and his co-author suggest that “the early Hebrews struggled with the puzzle of a God who is the source of both good and evil. As Israel continued to evolve toward a clearer monotheism, it was considered prudent to cast off the negative characteristics of the one true God - which the authors call 'repellant aspects of YHWH' - and embody them in a personality who would become the biblical 'Satan.' Beginning with Genesis, the authors trace the development of 'the devil' until he appears fully formed in the New Testament, where his role is 'to serve as the cosmic scapegoat, saving God from blame for evil.' . . . Ultimately, they reject the concept of personal Satan, but acknowledge its usefulness in dealing with the idea of evil” (Publisher’s Weekly).

Even Dr. John Shelby Spong, yes THE Bishop Spong of the Episcopal Church, wrote a blurb praising the book.

Even better, since the book is written at a popular level, it will be of great aid in disabusing young people of their foolish commitment to “traditional beliefs” and offer them a “challenging alternative.”

Rev. Alan Newton, Executive Minister, ABC of Rochester-Genesee. Rev. Newton is a man of great convictions and advocacy on matters of soul liberty and Baptist freedom. Perhaps the most articulate defender of AWAB in the GEC, he hosted the “Rochester Summit” a couple of years ago that led to the “Rochester Declaration.” Eventually more than 1,200 signatories joined the cause.

Given the bewildering diversity of views on core issues, it remains to be seen whether the national leadership will tackle the issues proactively and effectively at their annual GEC retreat. Will they look soberly at the problems and propose remedial steps or will they simply re-engineer the structure to take into account an ever shrinking organization? Downsizing to eliminate inefficiencies and to promote streamlining would be commendable; trying to cobble together work-arounds in order to “get by” with shrinking resources will only facilitate a slide towards non-existence.

His Barking Dog writes as an outsider to the ABC since the withdrawal of Transformation Ministries (formerly ABCPSW) last fall. Nevertheless, with many friends in the ABC, my interests follow the decisions being made by leadership to deal with pressing problems, some of which led to my own region’s withdrawal from the ABC “family.”

The GEC meets on Wednesday, April 11, though Saturday, April 14.

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