Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why Stay At the Table?

I study and prepare and act on my beliefs. If I didn’t think I was right, I wouldn’t take action. Most of us act out of sincere belief in the rightness of our actions. This is a sign of integrity. It’s good. It is really important, however, to be aware that we may be wrong. There is always more to learn. We aren’t God. Our understandings are always limited. Keeping this mindset helps us listen to those with whom we disagree. It also helps to remember that the folks with whom we disagree are made in the image of God just as we are.

When we see Jesus in each other, it is much easier to maintain mutual respect even though we differ. I got a letter last week from a pastor in my state who has been reading the blog and clearly self-identified himself as “not in the middle.” He believes his position is the correct one for any Bible-believing Christian. What is special about this man is his reasoned approach and his willingness to engage in dialogue in a care-filled way. If I could label him a “nut” or if he was someone who raged on and on, I could ignore him. The problem is he is a brother in Christ and I respect him. [He is also doing a very good job as pastor of his church.] I must engage with him. I am a person who has never, ever liked conflict or confrontation of any kind. I deeply wish I could explain my perspectives clearly enough and listen to him carefully enough that we would come to agreement. But I’m scared to enter the dialogue for fear of the outcome. I doubt my capacity to build the bridge. But, you see, I have to try. And so I pray. Do I have the courage to “stay at the table”? If we continue the dialogue there is risk. Both of us may have some of it wrong. Talking may lead both of us to change. Sometimes we feel so safe in our clear understanding of truth. Staying open to the movement of the Spirit and respecting those with whom we engage in meaningful dialogue, can change us (and them). Will we risk it?

The other part of my fear is that this pastor and I may realize we are not ever going to agree. I feel deeply the emotion Roy Medley expressed in his Biennial address. I don’t want to be separated from the folks in this family with whom I disagree. And why don’t I want to be separated? I already told you I hate conflict. Why not have a denomination limited to folks with whom I agree (in this case it would be a teeny, tiny denomination)? The reason is, I may not be right. How can I grow without the tension? I believe I’m right but I know my mind and heart are limited. Learning and growing take a lifetime.

My prayer is that this pastor and I will both stay in the family and continue a care-filled dialogue. No ranting. No fighting. Just a steady desire to influence and be influenced under the power of the Spirit.

For me, the new middle is not wishy-washy. It is not “undecided.” The new middle keeps its focus on our mission and vision. It is also true that the new, radical middle, or vibrant middle, is composed of those who have made a commitment to stay at the table. It is composed of people with strong, clear views. But they accept they have more to learn and that learning will best be stimulated out of healthy, loving study and dialogue. But that dialogue doesn’t dominate or distract from the mission focus.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

ABC in the Reactive Mode

I want to discuss Dwight’s comments about societal vs. convention structure in our history and practice, but I’ll wait at least until next week.

Today, I need to respond to Dwight’s reference to the speed of communication causing us to live in a reactive mode. I think this is a key to some of what’s wrong with us (and our society). One of the problems with living in a constant reactive mode is that it often involves adrenalin and adrenalin is addictive. There are varieties of opinions but it’s interesting to read about theories and studies regarding adrenalin addiction (living in constant stress and getting to the point of craving it) and adrenal exhaustion. When a crisis hits, we spring into action. Our adrenalin is pumping. But the body was designed to use adrenalin only occasionally, not constantly. The theory suggests that using adrenalin constantly results in a need for more – even to the point of creating a crisis if one is not readily available. Addiction. The eventual result is adrenal exhaustion (the inability to produce adrenalin – not a good thing).

It is possible to get addicted to dealing with the crisis-of-the-day, everyday and not understand what’s happening. When someone tries to set a new tone . . . the General Secretary’s call to radical discipleship . . . or NM’s new agenda on children in povery . . . we don’t see a vigorous response or a grass-roots mobilization . . . why? [I imagine Dr. Medley and Dr. Wright-Riggins have been wondering about the limited response to such great ideas.] We don’t get more jazzed about these initiatives because they don’t feed our addiction. We’d rather wait a few minutes for a new internal crisis. Then we can experience the reaction – reaction – reaction – exhaustion cycle. We don’t have the time or energy for reasoned, caring deliberation, reflection, and conversation. Many who have developed this addiction, don’t know it. [I’m not sure why children in poverty is not a “crisis” in this sense but somehow what I’m describing is generally exaggerated and dramatic in its effects on us personally.]

We are wasting our God given gifts in non-productive, energy sucking, reactive debate and strategizing and posturing and dramatic back-room conversations. [Trying to figure out what the insiders are doing – not realizing we’re all outsiders.]

The Regional Executive Ministers Council members have gotten extremely frustrated of late. It’s rare for anyone to end up as an Executive Minister unless they have high skills in problem solving. So we gather together these wonderful problem solvers and get caught in having to deal with a new episode of a crisis that demands our attention but which our structure does not allow us to solve. It is even difficult to find a way to help find a solution. The folks caught in the most serious part of the crisis need a denominational response – or help – or even just understanding. We don’t feel we can ignore the crisis but it’s frustrating to devote so much time and energy on reaction. These gifted problem solvers get caught in a bureaucratic or theological tangle -- the very thing they are usually the best at resolving, and when they can’t get it untangled, they are really not happy.

If we can talk about this reactive mode, if we can understand it, we might begin to get a handle on how to become a more healthy community of faith

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Baptists Struggle with Community

Community is, indeed, a major issue (if not the issue): Are we going to live together? If so, how? I confess I have begun to feel like one of the lone voices in the wilderness raising the question. Most of the time when I raise it in meetings it is either ignored by those who don’t even want to talk about our life together (both right and left) or hijacked by one advocate or another who thinks I am bolstering their position.

Susan has an unusual perspective, and a very valuable one. What are the causes and consequences of being a denomination of “outsiders?”

One of the questions it raises for me is one of cause and effect regarding community. Are we a denomination of outsiders because we have lost the sense of community we once had? OR Are we a denomination of outsiders because we never really had community, but the environment in which we find ourselves right now highlights our lack of community?

Increasingly, I am persuaded it is the latter. (Though, it is probably a little of both) I think Baptists have struggled with community from the very beginning. Certainly, Roger Williams was not able to inspire life together for the long term.

The early debate over Baptist organization (the vision of missions was not the debate) which swirled around convention (which is church-based and more unified) versus society (which is individual donor-based and more cause specific) has a significant community component. Each plan has its own advantages and disadvantages. Baptists in the North (centered in Boston) tended to favor the societal model, while Baptists in the South (meaning not New England) tended to favor the convention model. There are complex regional cultural differences at work here, and this is not the place to explore all of them.

Leon McBeth makes the following assessment: “The society is simpler, requires no extensive denominational machinery or approval for its work, maintains local control, and has the advantage of a committed membership. Those not interested in the society’s cause simply do not join. To its adherents, it also seems to protect the autonomy of the churches. However, the society plan does not enlist the involvement of churches, seldom builds denominational identity and loyalty, and makes overall denominational planning and correlation difficult.”

The old Triennial Convention was never really able to resolve the tension between these two models for accomplishing mission. Winthrop Hudson observed that “Baptists in the North deliberately packed the 1826 meeting [of the Triennial Convention] and, with this regional control, proceeded to dismantle the convention, sacrificing national Baptist unity and cooperation to regional interests.” That same meeting dismissed Luther Rice as an agent of the convention. This was the beginning of the end of any pretense of Baptist life together in America.

Following the schism of 1845, the Triennial Convention reorganized as the American Baptist Missionary Union (ABMU) with the sole purpose of foreign missions. The new constitution clearly reinforced the societal model. Any person (not a church) who contributed $10 could be a delegate that year.

Finally, in 1908 the Northern Baptist Convention was formed to bring the various societies for mission and education under one umbrella. However, in McBeth’s words “the denominational overhaul which formed the NBC in 1908 was never fully successful.” In reality, the formation of the NBC did little more than create a common funding tool. Further reorganizations followed.

The SCOR and SCODS reports of the 70’s created the denominational structure we have now, which is still essentially societal (especially in mindset) with a thin veneer of convention organization. But its membership is church-based (not donor-based) through regions and it is governed by a board of elected representatives from those regions. The Biennial meeting may look like a “convention,” but it does not have the power and authority that is typically ascribed to Baptist conventions. Our present organization is a peculiar animal that satisfies very few. Ray Jennings said that the reorganization “produced an undercurrent of acrimonious dissatisfaction that has yet to be fully evaluated or understood.”

One of the perverse evidences that we have struggled with community is the fact that we find so much in print about it! For example, “Autonomy and Interdependence,” adopted by the General Board in 1983 was, in part, stimulated by denominational unrest. It argues for a “dual emphasis on autonomy and interdependence,” a polarity in which “neither overcomes the other in theory or practice.”

Likewise, The Commission of Denominational Identity, chaired by Dr. Ralph Elliott, produced “American Baptists: A Unifying Vision” in the midst of the dissatisfaction of the 80’s. The Commission was created in 1984 in order to “identify who we are as American Baptists.”

“A Unifying Vision” is still a worthy document (American Baptists have produced a lot of them, even if we ignore them) that deserves to be read and studied carefully cover-to-cover. According to that Commission document, the number one premise of our identity is the sovereignty of God, and, under that, “The Life of Covenant.”

The opening paragraph of that section reads: “Citizens of the realm of God, of the Redeemer’s kingdom, are called in Christ to attend seriously to life in community and to the meaning of our covenant to pilgrimage together. As God’s people, we celebrate our covenant with God and with one another, and we rejoice that Christ has delivered us from the isolation of self-willed autonomy. Whether we are individuals, churches, or associations, we are called into the family of God, and we strive in the Spirit to order our life accordingly.”

I think both of these documents illustrate the attempt to establish a new (or reaffirm a forgotten) basis for associationalism. The old society models were essentially utilitarian. They were about “doing together what we cannot do alone.” (The key justification for the denomination that I learned growing up Baptist) The new/reaffirmed basis is that being together, living together, community, is a theological imperative intrinsic to the very nature of the Church. It is inextricably bound up with the “doing” of the church.

Back to my original point. If this ambivalence about life together has been with us such a long time, why is it emerging with such ferocity now?

In my opinion, it can be tracked to communication.

Dr. William Brackney, in a meeting with regional executive ministers, reviewed and analyzed the history of Baptist schisms. He found that one of the contributing factors to schism was the establishment of advocacy publications; in other words, the creation of communication channels.

Today, we can communicate more broadly and more quickly than anyone has imagined. What happens in Boston is known in Los Angeles within an hour. Old publication and distribution methods, by their very nature, included the moderating effect of time. Now we have no time for reflection, conversation, understanding or strategic thinking. We are all in a permanent reactive state.

What makes it even worse is the irony that despite the ease and low cost of rapid, widespread communication we have very few reliable, reflective sources of information in American Baptist life. At the same time we are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of “stuff” we receive in the name of ABCUSA. Much of this is focused on “telling the story.” But too often it is the victim of tunnel vision, ignoring the issues of life together. Sometimes communication is nothing more than financial solicitation in the guise of story-telling.

The communication vacuum was evident in the rumors and paranoia that swept through Denver. Maybe it was only in the backrooms and alleyways I tended to haunt, because it seems to me that many people still remain clueless about the fault line that is flexing underneath our feet even as I write this.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Long before this blog began last week, I struggled with Dwight’s position that there are times when we must be drawn into the conflict whether we like it or not. I would like to believe I can resist certain debates simply because I don’t want to be drawn into them. Unfortunately I have a strong, sinking feeling that Dwight is right. (He usually is.) My frustration over the current debate in society and in our denomination is because I don’t think it’s the debate we should be having. I heard someone say that there are 3000 references in scripture to the poor. Well, if we allow the Bible to set our priorities, it would seem we should be spending much more time struggling with the challenges of poverty than the challenges of sexuality. [Another frustration with the current focus on homosexuality is that the churches I’ve worked with have been much more damaged by heterosexual sin.] Of course the truth is, we don’t allow the Bible to set our priorities.
Another concern coming out of General Board and Biennial is to what extent are our denominational problems the result of “power plays” rather than deeply held differences in belief. In the late-1980s, I tried to figure out who the “insiders” were in the ABC. In talking to many folks I began to realize that we were, strangely, a denomination of outsiders. Clergy felt disenfranchised after SCODS & SCOR ( the restructuring of the 1970s). Laity felt disenfranchised because they felt power in the church was always with the clergy. Valley Forge types felt disenfranchised because they lost credibility when they went to work there (Why did you decide to leave ministry?), women – both clergy and lay – felt disenfranchised because of low representation even though lay women are the dominant demographic group in the denomination, laymen felt disenfranchised because they believed the denomination was interested in them only when a roof needed repair. And minority groups and caucuses felt disenfranchised because they had not gained a significant voice in denominational life. While everyone I asked felt like an outsider, they all believed there were insiders. I just could never find anyone who felt like an insider.
One of the things that happens when your group feels like it has been disregarded, is that you can begin to feel militant. (and sometimes, paranoid) You begin to think that perhaps extraordinary measures should be taken to gain rightful recognition. At a recent meeting of American Baptists in the heartland, someone said he and his group didn’t have to abide by the Code of Ethics because “Valley Forge has violated Biblical ethics.” Pretty sick.
The reason I’ve described all this is because it’s hard to have a debate on the pure issues that divide us when the environment is so clouded with mountains of personal and group baggage.
Paranoia was rampant in Denver. I heard groups on both left and right speculating on what the others would do next. There were some pretty dramatic scenarios floating around. My hunch is that both sides give the other more credit than they’re due in terms of skill at plotting. It does seem that there is a fairly highly developed and secret plan for the future of International Ministries.
Some of the paranoia surrounded the appearance of The Great Commission Network. I heard it described in various ways, such as: as a valuable new resource for church vitality, an attempt to up-end National Ministries, a channel for entrepreneurial and opportunistic leaders to make a buck, the seed of a new denomination. The brochure they handed out looked nicely done – rather like a standard ABC brochure. It didn’t seem to say too much but I’m sure more will follow.
Dwight’s most recent entry to the blog addresses our life in community. We need to talk more about that. I believe there are many who stay in this fracturing denomination because of the underlying beauty and blessing of this community. For us, it’s not about winning or losing a debate on an issue, but rather finding a way to travel this faith journey together.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Hearing and Reading Dr. Medley

Dr. Roy Medley, our General Secretary, delivered the key message on Friday evening during the Biennial. ( click here for the full text of his message) It was the most personal and impassioned such address that I have experienced by a General Secretary. It ended with a classic (for most Baptists) call to revival prayer.

Responses were (and continue to be) mixed. Right after the session I heard several say “he hit the nail right on the head.” But it was obvious that they had different nails in mind. Conversely, others said “he dropped the ball.” Likewise, one was playing football, the other baseball.

Certainly much of the confusion can be traced to the expectations (both positive and negative) of listeners. At the same time, some of the confusion is due to the genre of the message. Was it a sermon or a state of the denomination speech? Was it a plan for action or a logical monologue?

For me, it was clearly a sermon. And it reflected both the strengths and weaknesses of sermons. In particular, it was strong on images and emotional connection. But the very thing that makes most sermons powerful (stories and images with openings for “entry” and participative thinking) precludes clear, linear action strategies. Many, on all sides, were seeking the kind of clarity a sermon can seldom deliver. That is not to say that Dr. Medley’s address should not have been a sermon. Rather, I think some follow-up (even if pedantic and boring) is needed to draw out the complex implications and consequences that Dr. Medley had in mind while preaching.

Here are some of the things I heard and read:

1. Dr. Medley gave a testimony early on: “I want you to hear me clearly tonight: I am STILL traditional in matters of human sexuality AND I do not want to be separated from those who in Christian conscience differ from me on the issue of homosexuality.” Those who were hoping for an endorsement or approval of homosexual practices were disappointed. Likewise, those who were hoping for a strategy to accomplish denomination-wide purity on this issue were also disappointed.

These two poles define an awkward space. Whether or not it is livable space remains to be seen—but our track record so far is not encouraging. It seems evident that Dr. Medley will not use his office for anything other than the affirmation of traditional heterosexuality. At the same time, it seems evident that he will not use his office to encourage the denomination-wide dismissal of those churches which believe differently. Even within these poles, there is a large field which demands further delineation. Things cannot merely rest here.

2. He then went on to the role of Baptist principles. For Dr. Medley Scripture is key and Baptist principles function as a hermeneutic. He then went on to list personal convictions, including seventeen citations from Scripture. In that outline of faith you will find a robust confession of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and a resounding affirmation of the eschatological community of faith that we call the church. Dr. Medley’s essential theological conservatism will attract some and repel others.

While it is an important move to link Baptist principles to Scripture by functioning as a hermeneutic, or “rules for reading,” it raises several questions. If Baptist principles are derived from Scripture, then they cannot be superior to nor take the place of Scripture. Those principles themselves must be constantly tested against Scripture. That is not an easy task, especially for a denomination that does not have a formal court of theology or biblical interpretation.

Indeed, the identity and role of Baptist principles per se is a growing issue. The Baptist movement was not founded on a list of principles. The so-called principles were unearthed after the fact in reflection. Beyond that, there are many groupings (and non-groupings) of Baptists. There are significant differences among those groups regarding those principles, their order, and the function given to them.

Even among American Baptists our “priniciples” have changed. In the preface to American Baptists: A Unifying Vision (produced by the Commission on Denominational Identity in 1988, chaired by Dr. Ralph Elliott) warned: “American Baptist identity cannot be reduced to one or two simple affirmations that may distinguish us from the many communities that make up Christ’s church. … Denominational identity, like human identity, is not fixed and rigid.” Baptist principles exist in tension among themselves, creating another awkward space.

3. Dr. Medley drew on the story of Esther and her call to radical discipleship: “Who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” I know that he has found connection with this story because of the personal burden he carries as General Secretary. However, in this sermon he issued the call for all of us to live up to our calling to be radical disciples in a time of great uncertainty.

Three brief points were made from this story. First, that God called Esther to radical discipleship that expressed itself in radical love. She was called to face adversity by placing her life in God’s providential care. Second, that radical discipleship has been mark of American Baptists. Finally, that God is calling us to a new radical discipleship today.

Dr. Medley quickly went on to describe what he meant by “radical discipleship.” His litany included evangelism, social ministry, being centered in Christ, etc. The point was driven home by a listing of the diverse heroes/heroines of Baptist faith, all of whom were seeking a deeper form of discipleship. Indeed, the thrust behind Baptist principles was to make radical discipleship possible.

This presents a second-function for Baptist principles. Those principles are derived from Scripture, provide the community “reading rules,” and have the purpose of promoting radical discipleship. Now we have been another “test” for Baptist principles: Do they actually produce disciples? This forces us to address the issue of discipleship. Dr. Medley said that the “call to radical personal discipleship in Christ Jesus is part of our Baptist DNA. We by our very nature as a Baptist body can do no other than to proclaim the invitation of Jesus, ‘Come, take up your cross daily and follow me.’’’

Dr. Medley followed a very traditional, personalistic path here. I wish he had said something about the role of the community of faith in discipleship. I am persuaded that Baptists (and other revivalist offspring) have lost something of great importance in our neglect of the community. Christian formation requires intentional communal life. Not only that, I am persuaded that the goal of discipleship is life together, not mere personal piety. That is yet another tension we live with.

4. The remainder of the sermon was an impassioned call to radical discipleship, demonstrated in radical love. There is a lot of powerful, compelling rhetoric in this section. It needs to be unpacked carefully, but this is already too long!

Dr. Medley affirmed (once more) the linkage of Biblical authority, soul liberty and radical personal discipleship. He also affirmed yet another tension. “American Baptists grant the majority the right to say ‘This is what we believe’ and also protect the right to speak a minority point of view.” That one line needs to be read again and again and again. It demands answers to all kinds of questions. How does the majority (or minority) speak? What does it mean when the majority (or minority) speaks? What are the consequences of majority (or minority) speech? Most of all, how do we fit all that together in a unified (not uniform) community of faith?

Dr. Medley asserted that the last question “returns us to a biblical principle more important even than soul freedom: the principle of love.” Community is possible only because soul freedom is tempered by love, it is not absolute. This is not the romantic or popular notion of love, it is the love exemplified by the Cross. Love is costly action; and it costs me. Worst of all, it can’t be legislated, enforced, or demanded. The challenge from Romans 14:13ff is very blunt: “if your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.” It is a principle of self-control that challenges autonomy and is found repeatedly in the New Testament. This is a devastating critique of many in our denomination today. If we were living like this we would not be in the midst of turmoil. For this reason, if no other, Dr. Medley was right in calling us to revival prayer. Unfortunately, I suspect many nodded their heads and pointed to someone else.

What would happen if, instead of strategy meetings discussing how to win those meetings addressed the question “How can we best demonstrate our love for the Body?”

5. Dr. Medley moved to the close of his sermon with another personal note. Citing the words and example of Dr. Billy Graham, he claimed that this kind of love was a missional issue. Consequently, he avoids being drawn into controversial topics.

I sympathize with Dr. Medley, and I also fear for him. Dr. Graham (and others in positions like his) enjoys a luxury of personal freedom that I have not experienced as a pastor. While I can often (even usually) avoid controversial topics, I cannot always. Most morality issues are controversial. (Imagine the Triennial Convention had not taken a stand on slaveholding.) Sometimes what to one person is an inconsequential issue, is to another the ground of being. (I note that Billy Graham does not avoid the redemptive work of Christ, which is controversial to many). Sometimes a controversial topic has persistent life in, or even threatens the life of, the community that I serve. Despite my personal feelings, it would be irresponsible of me as a pastoral leader to refuse to be drawn into such conflicts—I do not live unto myself. (That does not mean I go looking for them or nurse them.) I am persuaded ministry is always contextual; and context sometimes includes unavoidable conflict.

In closing, I agree with Dr. Medley that “We stand at a crossroads. In our world, the path of radical discipleship, the path of radical love is the road less taken.” He painted a picture of a Baptist community of intrinsic tension. I have said many foolish things in my days. One of those foolish things was that “I am an American Baptist because I am comfortable here.” I am not comfortable any more. I am not sure it is even possible to be comfortable as a Baptist (perhaps that is why Roger Williams ended up alone). The greatest source of my discomfort right now is not so much the tension as it is the determination of one side or the other to resolve that tension in their favor and the “no holds barred” approach that many (not all) on both sides have adopted.

I have a deep personal affection for Roy Medley. And I have no doubt about his personal integrity or theology. I disagree with his intention to ignore this into oblivion. The balkanization of ABCUSA is progressing at a frightening pace, and many share the blame. Two years ago I could not imagine the things that are happening right now.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Another View from Denver

You will find in reading this blog that Dwight and I are not always in agreement. We are, however, both committed to providing voices from the center. We will attempt for the next few weeks or months to provide a weekly update.

I agree with Dwight that there were things to celebrate and things that caused concern during the days in Denver. As usual we saved money by having the General Board and Regional Executive Ministers Council have their meetings right before the Biennial. Because both meetings were particularly challenging, members arrived at the Biennial exhausted.

Clearly, perspectives on the practice of homosexuality continue to be a major issue for the ABC family. I rate it about a 9 on the Richter scale. The action of the Executive Committee of the Board of International Ministries (described by Dwight) I would rate as a 12. It is a move toward denomination fracturing of monumental consequences. [I do not have a quarrel with those who would like to discuss a stronger “societal” model of structure and governance. I do have a problem with secretive, unilateral manipulations. And I have a problem with non-representative governance.]

I am concerned that some American Baptist leaders don’t think our constituents can understand our denominational structure. I agree it can be mind-boggling at first. But a clear, USA Today-style chart & description, has worked for my board. If the day comes when we need a new structure, we’ll do a much better job of designing it if we clearly understand where we’ve been and why.

I agree with Dwight that you should read Dr. Roy Medley’s address rather than interpretations of it. I have noted a rather strange response to the speech. The speech contained things that might encourage as well as caution both the far left and far right. In the day following the speech, I heard folks left of center who seemed to have only heard the part they wanted to hear. I heard folks right of center who seemed to have only heard what they were afraid they would hear. Curious. We all need to look at it again.

From Denver

The Denver Biennial was hyped as a “make or break” for American Baptist Churches USA. This was an unfair expectation. While any Biennial gathering may be of visible and political significance, the real work of the denomination is done by elected representatives in the General Board. In Biennial years, the General Board meets right before the Biennial.

During this meeting the General Board considered (or received) several potentially important proposals. Most were not controversial. We heard exciting reports of the growth of American Baptists (though this deserves more detailed analysis); growing American Baptist mission support (but declining United Missions); extraordinary responses to the tsunami disaster through One Great Hour of Sharing; adopted ministry emphases in church planting, healthy missional congregations, leadership, radical discipleship, and youth; and endorsed a Board of National Ministries proposal to for a special ministry emphasis on children in poverty.

There was controversy (both expected and unexpected) at the General Board meeting.

The Indiana-Kentucky petition for By Law changes was duly received for “first reading,” and will follow the normal process to “second reading” and consideration at the Board meeting in November 2005. Mid-American Baptist Churches (Iowa and Minnesota) presented an unexpected proposal entitled “A Resolution of Concern for the Family and Our American Baptist Family of Churches.” There were several reports of concern and response from other regions. (you may read more about these at )

The most stunning development during the Board meeting was the disclosure of the intent of the Board of International Ministries (BIM) to hold closed session discussions around significant By Law changes. There were to be two parts to the discussion. The first was to consolidate the corporate structure of BIM. Presently, the organization is incorporated under various names in several states. It probably does make sense (not necessarily financial) to do this legal “clean up.”

However, the second discussion was much more troubling. It called for the necessary By Law changes to convert the Board of International Ministries into a “non-member self-sustaining” board. Regardless of the intent of this proposal, its effect would be the separation of the Board of International Ministries from the representative process of ABCUSA. BIM would no longer be composed of elected representatives from churches through regions. The work would be accountable only to this Board, which would elect its own members.

In neither case was it appropriate for such discussions to be secret or conducted without consulting with the General Board of ABCUSA. Beyond that, it would be an illegal unilateral action. The General Board, meeting as the representative American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (whose members presently elect directors to BIM from its membership) instructed BIM not to pursue such action without appropriate representation from the other partners who compose ABCUSA. There was a heated exchange. To their credit, both the officers of ABCUSA and BIM later exchanged apologies and sought public reconciliation. Unfortunately, the damage cannot be repaired by a public hug.

The intended action stimulated a long discussion in the Regional Executive Ministers Council (REMC) and resulted in a concern being sent to the General Board (by majority, not unanimous vote). That concern, while precipitated by the BIM disclosure, was not directed solely to BIM. It expressed concern about the use of “closed” or “executive” sessions by boards anywhere in ABCUSA. While it is appropriate for some issues to be considered in closed sessions, our present climate of mistrust, suspected “conspiracies,” and rumors is not a good environment for such meetings. We need to exercise better discernment.

BIM tabled the action, which means it will be on the November agenda.

Having said that, the Biennial proper was not without significance. Certainly the address by Dr. Roy Medley will receive a lot of attention. (you may read the full text at ) Please read the whole message before you accept a second-hand report or interpretation, including ours.