Friday, September 21, 2007

ABCUSA in the Southwest. Whence and Whither? A Review of Dr. Chetti's Presentation at Atherton

Dr. Chetti soldiered on admirably for the cause of ABC unity in his presentation at Atherton Baptist Homes this week. He was upbeat, encouraging, prophetic, and quite effective. Only a diehard critic of the ABC could have remained unmoved by his excellent work in explaining, defending, and casting a compelling vision. My previous posting represented as fairly as possible the things that were said by Dr. Chetti so that you might have a flavor of the event. Several in attendance at the meeting verify the accuracy of my account.

Now, however, it is time to respond to some of the points raised. Several “nits” could be picked. For example, it was my understanding that Dr. Lee Spitzer did virtually all of the writing and most of the work on the Lancaster proposal. I also believe that Dr. Chetti is the most recent appointment to the audit committee for the American Baptist Homes of the West (an institution organizationally unrelated to Atherton Baptist Homes).

For the purposes of this posting, however, we will focus on the anomalies present in the structure being articulated as the future of the ABCUSA.

Radical Restructuring. Given the declining contributions to the United Mission budget, increases in regional support, and on-going friction over issues such as homosexuality, the ABC has decided to address these issues decisively and effectively. Their plan is to decouple the various program boards and regional entities, eliminate the General Board with its legislative functions, marginalize (or decommission) the Office of the General Secretary as it has existed since the 1970s, and generally promote a plan of decentralization.

The major virtue of the Federation is also its chief disadvantage. Like the old Articles of Confederation in the U.S., people often tire of a central government with no reason for being. Perhaps that is the plan. It will simply cease to exist in any meaningful national instantiation. But, will the proposed common table provide enough organizational glue to hold together such disparate and diverse regional entities?

A Covenant Depending Upon Revitalized and Activist Executive Ministers. After much prayer and agonizing discussion, the executive ministers realized that further factionalism will only destroy the good work everyone values in the ABC. They also sense that they have been too quiescent in the battles sundering the denomination. Therefore, they have concluded that as EMs will become proactive in saving the enterprise. In short, they will try not to get in each other's faces too much. Rather than allowing controversial persons to receive appointments to national offices, positions of leadership, and the like, they will pledge to one another to give “due consideration” to all ABC resolutions, policies, and statements.

However, before the ink could dry on the Tucson Covenant, at least one EM was reassuring his pastors that this did not mean that they would back away from their justice concerns or fail to give otherwise qualified people their leadership due. In what sense, then, does this “address the problem” or move forward? It sounds more like a pact not to see or discuss the elephant in the middle of the room. Any appointments over which EMs have control will be of the "under the radar" variety.

However, by eliminating the General Board and de-emphasizing or decommissioning the Office of the General Secretary, it should result in a noticeable drop in “noise” in the system. Everything will happen at the regional level. If TABCOM wants to have a lesbian as the head of their ministers council, so what? ABCOSH will not even hear news of it and they will likely never hear about it. They will simply be told by sincere Executive Ministers that "we have addressed the problem and that we have moved on.”

But, if “the issue” has been resolved and if the common table implies a high level of trust, why did Dr. Chetti feel the need to place a quarantine around the ABC of Chicago? Since there is no reason to question the integrity of what other regional units do, and since we are committed to not “taking our toys off the table,” does a refusal to accept clergy from Chicago not imply some contradiction of the rhetoric professed? And, what of TABCOM in Massachusetts or the Rochester region? If Los Angeles cannot trust Chicago, on what basis can they trust the arguably more progressive entities in the northeast?

Dr. Chetti proffered that all “34 executives are on the same page.” Here he seems completely sincere in his affirmation. However, based on conversations and e-mails sent to me, that greatly overstates the case. That they all voted for the proposal does not equate with excitement about it. In a less than perfect world, where the left took early and effective aim at the so-called Lancaster Plan, the “writing team” salvaged what could be kept and has put forth plans that will win unanimous support in part because they empower the Executive Ministers and reduce or remove the friction with Valley Forge. Freed from the burdens of the participation in the current Covenant of Relationships, EMs will be able to direct their passion where they want it to go: to their churches and pastors.

Will it work? I have suggested for some time that the plans being promulgated show the greatest potential to extend the life-cycle of the ABCUSA. Had the Tucson Covenant come a couple of years earlier and been honestly followed, it might very well have kept the PSW from withdrawing from the ABC.

At this point, however, the difficulties identified in this response will continue to be problematic for the organization. It remains to be seen how they will address the issues. In the meantime, Dr. Chetti is perhaps the best spokesperson Dr. Medley could find. He has the ability to explain and persuade those who are wavering.

[Since there is currently a battle for the hearts and minds of congregations located in Southern California, Arizona, and Hawaii for loyalty to either Transformation Ministries or ABCOSH, and due to Dr. Chetti's presence on the campus of the ministry where I serve, it seems appropriate to enter into dialogue regarding the points he made this past Monday at Atherton.]

1 comment:

Amill-Presup said...

Ooooh, I get it. It's a fork in the road! You really had me confused for a minute. I thought maybe you had lost it. :D