Monday, June 29, 2009

ABC Biennial: A Case of the Law of Unintended Consequences???

I was shocked to learn from my brother, a volunteer at the ABC biennial in Pasadena, that the denominational structure plan did not pass. With observers such as Dr. Dwight Stinnett, I would concur that the plan being proposed was probably the best satisficing balance of competing interests under the circumstances. As Stinnett opines in his blog: “Given who we are, our competing interests, and our incommensurate values, I still believe it was the best we could do at the time.”

But, while musing on the shock of an electoral defeat this dramatic, a thought came to me. The vote was close, very close to passing. And, the numbers of delegates were few, less than 700! What if the decision to hold the biennial in the heart of the old ABCPSW, in the middle of the worst recession in decades, without pruning the rolls of old ABC churches now more TM than ABCOSH, was responsible for tipping the balance against the proposal? [Nothing in this posting is intended as asserting that this did indeed happen. I was not there and do not know. However, it represents an interesting possibility to consider.]

Certainly there were plenty of people motivated to be suspicious of authority, who felt underinformed about the proposal, or who did not relate to the electronic means of learning more about the details from an internet site. "Old School" Baptists would object that the proposal was more than a little unbaptistic in its decoupling of agencies and regions. Add to this the progressives on the left who were sincerely offended that the proposal would freeze in time all past resolutions (e.g., the one they find most odious of all regarding homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching). The material prepared by the folks at AWAB's Central Baptist Church (Wayne) offered articulate reasons to oppose the plan.

However, an often neglected factor may have played a role as well. When PSW voted overwhelmingly to withdraw from the ABC, Dr. Salico explained that he and Dr. Medley had agreed to give congregations 18 months to discern which affiliation they wanted to maintain. However, it was hardly a couple of months when that agreement was interpreted (abrogated? forgotten? modified?) as something very different. Congregations were told that unless they took an official vote to disaffiliate, they would continue to be counted as ABC churches in good standing.

Even in the old bastion of conservatism, ABCPSW, feelings regarding the ABC were sharply divided in most churches. Few pastors would necessarily want to be so controversial as to raise the issue in debate, lest dissent would sour into division. At this point, the website for ABCOSH lists MANY churches I personally know to be actively disinterested in all things ABC with pastors disinclined to continuing any relationship at all (other than one with BIM). However, many of these churches have not bothered (nor will they ever) to vote themselves “out” of the ABC. And, virtually all of them have members, many of them less informed about denominational politics, who still see themselves as American Baptists.

What if “old fashioned” Baptists who do not feel comfortable with getting their information over the internet from the ABC site, who never really understood what all the fuss was about with the ABC, who wanted to see old friends from around the country, prevailed upon their pastors to allow them to attend the biennial as delegates?

What if the recession reduced the attendance to 1,200? What if the numbers of registered delegates was closer to 600-700? What if some of these nominally ABC churches permitted their more diehard ABC types to go to Pasadena where, because their pastor had never mentioned it, the new structure was a completely new idea to them?

What if the discernment sessions did not adequately inform them about the seemingly radical deconstruction of the SCODS/SCOR structures that they did (finally after nearly four decades) understand? What if it sounded vaguely “unbaptistic” to them?

What if in a desire to be “positive,” nobody explained the financial drivers that made the reduction of the $400,000/yr. representative process price tag more of a decision of urgency and survival rather than merely a discretionary move?

Could enough delegates from basically non-ABC churches (i.e., TM congregations that had not formally withdrawn from the ABCUSA) have innocently mucked up the voting by registering the handful of negative votes necessary to result in a defeat? Could underinformed members of essentially non-ABC churches have shown up in enough numbers to have turned the tide on such an important issue?

Honestly, I do not know the answer. Someone smarter than I am (e.g., Dr. Jeff Woods) might be able to perform a statistical analysis of the numbers of delegates from southern California ABCOSH churches. Were there enough of them to result in the shortfall???

If so, it would be a tragic instance of the law of unintended consequences.

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