Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Response to Dr. Medley's "Call"

Allow me to sidetrack from the recent GEC meetings and speak to the July 17th letter from Dr. Medley entitled “A Call for American Baptists to Live Lives of High Moral and Ethical Responsibility,” as linked from this blog in the previous post.

While some may dismiss, pooh-pooh, or even get angry at the statement I believe it was important. It may even be unprecedented. While I will bow to some historian correcting me, I have been an American Baptist minister for nearly 25 years and I don’t remember a comparable, personal, pastoral letter from the General Secretary. It is an appropriate response to the current crisis in our denomination.

Dr. Medley described how he has practiced leadership regarding this issue in those areas over which he has authority. I personally believe this has always been the case, even though it was not acknowledged publicly. It is not fair to accuse the General Secretary for not doing things which he is not empowered to do. The General Secretary has no authority to discipline either churches or regions—for any issue. Regions have the sole authority to admit/discipline churches and to recognize or discipline the ordination of clergy. From the beginning, this was essentially an issue between regions. For that same reason it is also not fair to accuse the General Secretary of violating or undermining congregational autonomy (which is not absolute in any case, but that is another issue).

This is also important because it validates the organizational integrity of the General Board. The staff of the General Board (chief among whom is the General Secretary) are bound by the policies, resolutions, instructions, etc., of the General Board. If the staff of the General Board are saying and doing things contrary to what the Board has said, then it is the Board’s responsibility to make the correction. I believe Dr. Medley is making a bona fide effort to interpret and implement one very clear and one very vague statement by the General Board.

It is important because the issue is set in the realm of ethics and morality, where it belongs. Some want to make this a theological issue, so they can start heresy proceedings. But others want to make it a theological issue because they believe Baptist tradition will give them carte blanche. Both are wrong. While ethics/morality are related to theology, they are not in the same category as “God was in Christ reconciling the world.” I expect some challenges from both sides on that.

Dr. Medley affirmed, one more time, his personal position. While that is important for some, it is even more important to understand that there is a sense in which his personal opinion on this (or any other) issue does not matter (any more than mine does). He is an employee of the General Board, just as I am an employee of my Board. Both of us are obligated to interpret and implement the will of that Board even if we don’t personally agree with it.

However, his personal affirmation is important—even grossly understated. Dr. Medley is a deeply spiritual man of high personal moral integrity. Charges and innuendos about his morality are unfounded and out of line. While I have disagreed with Dr. Medley on some things, I have never had reason to suspect his moral integrity. He is living a life worthy of his calling.

The statement was important because it tried to set a very difficult issue in context in as few words as possible. Is there anyone out there who does not believe “we live in a culture obsessed with sex?” Has anyone watched TV, listened to the radio, or read a newspaper recently? This cultural context does not establish moral positions or substitute for moral reasoning. However, it does impact the energy behind those positions. Not many would agree with the practice of slaveholding today, but the culture of the 1800’s gave that same position much more energy then than now. Twenty-five years ago not many would have been involved in a clergy misconduct prevention workshop. Today I have 20-25 at workshops scheduled twice a year. The morality (nor reality) of misconduct has not changed, but our context has created more energy around the issue.

Some will argue that he didn’t say enough about our context, or that he had some hidden agenda and used these words to be PC and deflect. I don’t believe that. It was appropriate and reflective for a one-page letter.

Acknowledging that there are other sins (how dare the Apostle Paul do that?) does not diminish or deflect from any particular sin unless one is inclined to do so because of their own personal agenda. Many have argued that the sexual obsession of our culture is reflected in a singular obsession with homosexuality. Often there are not-so-subtle implications that those persons so obsessed have their own sexual demons or have a deep-seated hatred longing for violent expression. While that is sometimes the case, it is not my experience that most of those voicing moral objections to homosexual practices are obsessed, blinded by hatred, or violent. Indeed, most folks seem so careful to avoid the appearance of obsession, hatred, or violence that they are reluctant to voice their objection.

Lastly, it was important because it was pastoral. Dr. Medley chose not to attack homosexual persons or anyone who disagreed with him. He called us to life in Christ; a life of high moral and ethical responsibility. Does anyone really want to eliminate Christ-like compassion and care? We may debate how that is best done, but I am not ready to discard either. Likewise, does any sin justify hate, violence, or injustice? (Yes, God hates sin, that does not give me permission to hate sinners.)

I stand with Dr. Medley and this call. Even as I hope and pray that we will live lives worthy of our calling, I must confess that I am a sinner. I have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved God with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. I do not need others to gloss over, dismiss, or approve of my sin. I need others to call me to repentance. For only Jesus Christ is faithful and just to forgive me of my sins.

Does this “resolve” the issue? Of course not. But I am more optimistic for the prospects of an honest conversation that I have been in two years.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dr. Medley's Call

Dr. Roy Medley, General Secretary of ABCUSA has issued a "Call for American Baptist to LIve Lives of High Moral and Ethical Responsibility." It is worth reading:

Thursday, July 06, 2006

General Board June 2006


It has been a little over a week since you and I returned from meetings in Valley Forge. We are always attending a whole series of meetings (General Board, General Executive Council, Regional Executive Ministers Council, Multi-Region Corporation, etc.) which tend to blend together into a fog, even though each group has distinctive responsibilities. Perhaps the time has given us a little better perspective and we can say some useful things.

There were some very wonderful things and some very important things that happened during these meetings.

The report to the General Board of “Post-Katrina” assistance to the Gulf Coast was beyond good. The numbers of projects that American Baptists have been (and continue to be) involved in was breathtaking, as was the extent of donated dollars and volunteer time. American Baptists are a compassionate, generous people. Sometimes that gets forgotten. Kudos to individuals, churches, regions, ABMen, National Ministries staff, and all those involved with One Great Hour of Sharing. We are all proud!

It was also wonderful to see my former ethics professor again. Dr. Glenn Stassen (Professor of Ethics at Fuller Seminary) presented an engaging interpretation of the structure of the Sermon on the Mount. Granted, I had some personal stake in this because of my connection with Dr. Stassen, but this was a good teaching moment for the entire General Board. The only unfortunate thing is that the table discussions were not adequately structured to take the best advantage of Dr. Stassen’s challenging presentation.

The departure of the ABC of the Pacific Southwest necessitated some Standing Rule changes because there was no provision in either Bylaws or Standing Rules to deal with the consequences of an entire region withdrawing from ABCUSA. Consistent with other Bylaw and Standing Rule provisions, cooperating churches that are part of PSW will have 24 months to seek affiliation with another ABC region, or to form their own region. From PSW’s perspective, their break with ABCUSA will become effective in November 2006. From the perspective of ABCUSA Bylaws, that will be finalized at the Biennial in 2007. The necessary changes were handled easily.

The financial report from Lloyd Hamblin (ABC Budget Review Officer) was important, even if very troubling. In my opinion it was the most direct reporting of financial reality that the General Board has ever received. Over the last three years, United Mission has dropped 20.6%. All those components of the denomination that rely on United Mission for support have been impacted significantly. While some of those components have compensated for this loss through targeted and/or designated giving, most have not.

An intentional survey of those churches that have reduced their United Mission giving revealed three basic causes. (Actually Lloyd reported four, but I believe that one is a subset of another). First, changes in giving patterns that are predominantly generational and institutional. Second, conflict in the denomination and distance from the denomination (primarily, but not only, over the issue of homosexuality; it was not irrelevant that we received the report that 81 churches have withdrawn from ABCUSA, 40 from West Virginia alone). Third, financial struggles in local congregations.

The General Board has fiscal responsibility for 35% of United Mission, from which it must fund all its activities and make allocations to National Ministries and International Ministries. Clearly the denomination is in a crisis situation, and the General Board must directly address the issue because the financial decline has gone beyond the point that staff-initiated administrative changes can accommodate the continuing shortfall. Drastic changes must happen over the next 24 months.

I am concerned because we don’t have a good track record of dealing with such crises. I am also concerned because the morale of the General Board seemed as flat as I have seen it in 10 years. But even beyond the morale issue I am concerned that most General Board members are faithful American Baptists who are passionate about ministry—not money—and may not be gifted or informed adequately to deal with such a complex crisis. But most of all I am concerned that we will “fix” the financial problem (even if by default through inaction) without addressing the underlying causes that the Budget Review Officer described in his report. Consequently, in 24 months we will be in another crisis and shopping for another Band-Aid.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this looks so much like “church” to me. When I consult with churches I see the same patterns avoidance, denial, self-interest, scapegoating, disengagement, etc. By the grace of God, churches can rise above this. I hope and pray that this denomination can.

This is already too long, so I will sign off and do a separate entry on the GEC meetings.

Monday, July 03, 2006

GEC Meeting June 25-26

The General Executive Council of ABCUSA continued to work following the recent General Board meeting. Since April we have joined by an outside facilitator, Dr. Trish Jones. Dr. Jones has helped us identify four key areas of concern (denominational leadership, denominational structure, representative process, and relevance to local congregations). All four areas are obviously interrelated. Below is the official summary of that meeting, which was frank, sobering, reflective, and thoughtful.

Summary of GEC Meeting June 25-26

The General Executive Council (GEC) met June 25-26, immediately following the proceedings of the ABCUSA General Board. The primary purpose of the meeting was to examine ways of improving the ministry functioning of the denomination by surfacing and assessing potential modifications and renovations. During an earlier meeting this year, the GEC had identified four areas of concentration for potential transformation within the denomination, namely denominational leadership, denominational structure, representative process, and relevance to local congregations.

The members advanced their previous work by reviewing input from the General Board, new survey data from the grass roots level (from over 2400 respondents), information from a May Summit meeting of ABC Officers and Staff, as well as specific change proposals, authored by the GEC members themselves, in the four areas of concentration. Working in small groups and reporting out to the larger body, the GEC members asked three questions of each proposal: (1) What additional information or clarification do I need to fully understand this proposal? (2) What assumptions underlying this proposal should be/can be challenged? (3) What are the potential unforeseen positive and negative consequences of this proposal? The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Tricia Jones, a communications and organizational development professor at Temple University. Dr. Jones has also worked with the GEC in prior discussions.

During the next meeting of the GEC, scheduled for September 25-27, the GEC members intend to make recommendations to the General Board in the four areas of concentration; the ABCUSA General Board will receive this information after the September meeting, for consideration and processing in its November meeting.

Prior to their September meeting, GEC members who authored proposals plan to rework each proposal using the feedback received at their June meeting. All members of the GEC have agreed to further advance their work over the summer by assessing specific sections of the newly revised proposals looking for synergies that have the potential of becoming proposals at the September meeting. The criteria to be used for evaluating each revised proposal (as well as their component parts) will include criteria surfaced by members of the GEC itself as well as criteria surfaced by the General Board and its Executive Committee at their recent meetings in June. The process may also include further data gathering. Members of the GEC agreed to these future processes by consensus.

This current work of the GEC has been prompted by several factors, including a strong desire to advance the mission that God has given to American Baptists, to build upon the work of the “Seek It” vision, to respond to the needs of 21st century congregations, to attend to financial concerns, and to address current conflicts within the denomination.

The American Baptist General Executive Council is comprised of the Executive Ministers of the Regions; the Executive Directors and two Associate Executive Directors from each of the National Boards (Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board, the Board of National Ministries, and the Board of International Ministries); the Executive Directors of the Ministers Council, American Baptist Women’s Ministries, the American Baptist Historical Society, and the American Baptist Assembly; and the General Secretary and Staff of the Office of the General Secretary.

GEC Survey Summary

A few months ago the General Executive Council took a survey to help inform our work. The survey was open and voluntary. That means it has the limitations of all such surveys. The only “control” was that the same computer was not allowed to take the survey multiple times. Nevertheless, with 2343 people responding, it is a statistically significant (even if not satisfying) survey of American Baptist opinions. This is the official summary:

GEC Survey Summary
June 2006

I. Demographics - A total of 2343 people responded an online GEC survey during May of 2006.

A. Limitations due to demographic factors: While the number of responses indicate a large overall response, it is important to note that the people who chose to respond to this survey do not reflect the overall demographics of American Baptists. More specifically, all ethnic groups were underrepresented in this survey and many regional groups were over represented.

B. Gender: 69% of the respondents were male and 31% were female.

C. The ages of the respondents are shown below:
1% Under 24 (17)
5% 25-34 (112)
12% 35-44 (280)
30% 45-54 (700)
32% 55-64 (756)
20% Over 65 (480)

D. The ethnicity of the respondents is also shown below.
87% Euro (2040)
5.1% African-American (121)
1.8% Hispanic (42)
1.1% Asian (27)
0.2% Portugese-Speaking (4)
0.1% Haitian (3)

E. The number of responses from each region is shown below as well as the number of current congregations within each region for comparison:

REGION # respondents # congregations
ABCOPAD 189 321
Great Rivers 187 252
IN-KY 175 319
West Virginia 159 413
Mid-America 142 139
Central 119 233
NY State 108 318
Ohio 101 283
New Jersey 97 285
Michigan 94 152
Mass 77 290
Northwest 72 158
PSW 70 272
VT/NH 65 147
Wisconsin 59 61
Rochester 59 38
Rhode Island 53 74
South 47 305
Philadelphia 46 128
LA 46 144
West 46 196
Connecticut 44 121
Maine 41 159
Indianapolis 38 30
Rocky Mountain 37 92
Nebraska 34 58
Evergreen 29 35
Chicago 25 61
Metro NY 22 191
Dakotas 20 53
Oregon 20 50
Cleveland 17 38
DC 13 148
Puerto Rico 7 123

F. The roles of the respondents were:
53% Pastors (1249)
26% Laity (620)
7% Local church staff (167)
4% REMC/Region Staff (102)
3% General Board (70)
1% Seminary faculty/staff (32)
1% NEC/GEC (17)

II. Overall Issues of Importance. The results reveal that the respondents strongly value many of the items listed on the survey. On seven separate items, fifty percent of the respondents rated the item as a 9 or 10 on the scale of importance. Those seven items are listed below with the percentage shown in parentheses.

72% A structure driven by mission
69% A clear and compelling vision
68% Local churches being represented in decision making
64% The helpfulness of regional staff when I have questions or needs
63% Engaging in our common mission that extends beyond local churches
56% Dynamic leadership in the denomination
50% National and regional staffs partnering together to resource local churches

III. Issues of Satisfaction. There were no items where fifty percent of the respondents rated the item as a 9 or 10 on the satisfaction scale. The items with the greatest percentage of respondent ratings in the 9 or 10 range on the scale of satisfaction are listed below with the actual percentage of 9’s and 10’s shown in parentheses.

41% The helpfulness of regional staff when I have questions or needs
34% The quality of my relationships with regional staff
21% The helpfulness of national staff when I have questions or needs
21% An ethnically representative group making national decisions
17% The leadership development efforts of regional staff

IV. Issues of dissatisfaction. On five separate items, twenty-five percent of the respondents rated their present satisfaction level with the item as a 1 or 2. Those five items are listed below with the percentage rating the item as a one or a two shown in parentheses.

33% Local churches being represented in national decision making
31% The concern expressed for my local church by national leaders
30% A clear and compelling vision for the denomination
29% The quality of my relationships with national leaders
25% Dynamic leadership in the denomination

For sections V through IX, the responses of “agree” and “strongly agree” have been combined as have the responses of “disagree” and “strongly disagree” to obtain the combined percentages that you see under the areas of concentration identified by the GEC. The percentages of those who indicated that they “neither agreed nor disagreed with the item” are not included in the figures below.

V. Structural issues –
A. 22% believe that our present structure is very effective for dealing with today’s challenges and opportunities while 59% do not.
B. 39% believe that our present structure fosters rivalry among regional, national, and general staffs and should be changed while 17% do not.
C. 49% prefer a more decentralized structure while 29% oppose it.
D. 44% prefer a single board structure while 26% oppose it.
E. 44% prefer an affinity based structure while 25% oppose it.

VI. Leadership
A. 27% believe that our national leaders are providing strong and effective leadership on the most important issues facing our denomination while 57% do not.
B. 54% believe that our national leaders are failing to effectively address the needs and concerns of 21st century congregations 29% do not.

VII. Relevance
A. 25% believe that our denominational ministries compare well to parachurch ministries while 46% do not.
B. 37% believe that national resources and programs are relevant for their local church while 45% do not.
C. 40% believe that national resources and ministries are personally relevant while 37% do not.
D. 58% believe that regional resources and programs are relevant for their local church while 27% do not.
E. 58% believe that regional resources and ministries are personally relevant while 24% do not.
F. 21% believe that their ministry would suffer significantly if it were not for the national resources and programs while 57% do not.
G. 41% believe that their ministry would suffer significantly if it were not for the regional resources and programs while 39% do not.
H. 32% believe that national staff build their trust and confidence in the denomination while 49% do not.
I. 58% believe that regional staff build their trust and confidence in the denomination while 26% do not.
J. 66% believe that national gatherings and conferences should focus upon best practices and training opportunities for church leaders while 7% do not.

VIII. Representative Process
A. 45% believe that the representative process plays a vital role in the denomination while 27% do not.
B. 25% believe that the representative process adequately represents the concerns of their local church to the wider ABC family while 51% do not.
C. 56% believe that the representative process should be overhauled while 14% do not.
D. 39% believe that the General Board should be much smaller while 20% do not.
E. 58% believe that the General Board should focus on missional interests rather than legislative concerns while 19% do not.

IX. Communication
A. 37% believe that communications from Valley Forge are of the highest quality while 28% do not.
B. 66% believe that all ABC communication should emphasize a clear and consistent message while 10% do not.
C. 36% believe that the current ABC giving appeals appear more competitive than coordinated while 22% do not.