Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mustering the Energy to Continue

Dwight, obviously I’ve been quiet for some time. I have been keeping my head down, doing the work of ministry in the place where I work. I realize I have a role in the larger denominational family but it was nice for a bit to “stay apart.” We are now approaching Labor Day the traditional kick-off for the fall season and I’m trying to muster the energy to once again engage.

You made reference to my dislike for the term “irreconcilable differences.” Yeah, it’s been pretty evident in meetings we’ve both attended that I tend to “go off” when the term is used. I apologize for the intensity of my response. My contention has been “How can Christians have irreconcilable differences?” Couldn’t Jesus fix our differences – if we gave him a chance? Of course, I know that there are many areas in which people have nearly irreconcilable differences. My problem is that we use the term too soon. What I’m curious about right now is – does having irreconcilable differences mean we can’t work together? The answer is “No.” Baptists have always worked across lines of serious differences.

The problem is that the current climate in our society encourages all or nothing. You’re either red or blue or black or white and somehow that defines your position on a whole assortment of issues. Political advertising is filling the airwaves in my town these days and it’s disgusting. Vigorous debate is fine. Broadcast assault by half-truths is not. I’ve got a hunch that in the current climate we’d be divided as a denominational family no matter what the provoking issue. If our division is being driven by societal divisions, I may have to rethink my resistance to “irreconcilable differences.” But, at this moment, I still think Christians can rise above.

The General Executive Council will meet in late September to address the structure of the ABC-USA. It’s something that needs to be done. Whether it will help with our larger issues remains to be seen. I appreciate Roy Medley's efforts to get us through this. In this process, as in so many others, it seems we get caught between efficiency and principle. I can quickly come up with a clear, concise structure for the ABC – the only problem is it won’t be Baptist. We also can’t seem to figure out how to hold on to our history and how to move forward from it. When is our history a strong foundation and when is it holding us back from engaging a new day? Analyzing any possible proposals is inappropriate at this time. The members of the GEC will do that and, I hope, the process will lead us to ideas we have not yet conceived. We will talk more in the blog about this process after the meeting when we can discuss the possibilities for the future.

Rather amazingly, I still think we’ll use the minds God gave us and find a positive way to move forward as an ABC family.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Still Supporting Dr. Medley

I repeat my support for Dr. Medley’s “Call.” (Dr. Medley’s Call on this blog)

The response has been predictable—cool suspicion, even dismissal, from the right and near hysteria from the left. Unfortunately, many of the words flying about focus on the person of Roy Medley, not the General Secretary, the General Board, or the Covenant Partners. Certainly none of these are above criticism. I have written my own critiques of Dr. Medley’s public speeches—whom I still consider a close friend and colleague—but don’t believe (of course someone may correct me) that I have engaged in theatrics, betrayed confidential conversations, nor engaged in ad hominem attacks. Roy has never chosen to respond to my sometimes stinging comments—probably because he is a better Christian than I am.

Some have said that this “Call” is a flip-flop from Dr. Medley’s Biennial sermon. One side doesn’t trust him because of it. The other side is scandalized by it and persuaded that in can only be explained by some dark, smoky room conversion (if not coercion) of Roy Medley.

This “Call” is fully consistent with what Dr. Medley said at the Biennial. I said then that “some follow-up is needed to draw out the complex implications and consequences Dr. Medley had in mind while preaching.” (see Hearing and Reading Dr. Medley on this blog) In that analysis/critique I said that “Dr. Medley will not use his office for anything other than the affirmation of traditional heterosexuality.” And that at the same time, “he will not use his office to encourage the denomination-wide dismissal of those churches that believe differently.” I still believe that to be true. There is nothing in Dr. Medley’s “Call” that counters that. Only those who imagined some hidden message to the contrary discern a change of position. As at least one on the left has said Roy’s position has been clear, “Nothing has changed.”

Dr. Medley’s Biennial sermon included the inaugural “call to radical discipleship.” While his litany of the “marks” of radical discipleship included evangelism, social ministry, being centered in Christ, etc., he did not have the time to do a full exploration of it (nor was it the appropriate place for him to do that). I note that Dr. Glenn Stassen (Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller) spoke at the June 2006 General Board meeting specifically as one effort to call us to radical discipleship. (I invite everyone to read all, not just parts, of his Kingdom Ethics). This most recent “Call” grows out of Dr. Medley’s passion for radical discipleship which, apparently, includes living lives of high moral and ethical responsibility.” Perhaps our level of offense at this is an indicator of the extent of our self-righteousness just as our easy satisfaction with it is an indicator of the extent of our smug blindness.

Some have expressed pain and offense that homosexual practices are mentioned in the same paragraph as sin, especially the mention of a culture obsessed with sex. I acknowledge the reality of the pain of those persons. At the same time, I assert that there are others who could also find pain and offense in the paragraph. Still, I must insist, that the point of that paragraph is that we live in an “environment of deep suspicion regarding the sexual integrity of persons in authority.” This environment of suspicion is one of the things that make it impossible for us to even talk about the issue. The response of some is, in fact, proof that we live in such an environment. Accusations that Dr. Medley has suddenly turned vindictive and mean with a singular focus on homosexual persons is unwarranted.

In the “Call,” the General Secretary affirmed that it is his “responsibility to uphold this as the official position of the General Board of ABCUSA,” and has implemented that position in those arenas over which he has responsibility. The General Secretary could do nothing else! Indeed, the relative silence of the General Secretary regarding the impact of duly adopted policies/resolutions of the General Board on General staff and activities has undermined the organizational integrity of the General Board. It is not inconsequential that the “Call” opens with the declaration that it is being issued as a “continuing part of our implementation of policies adopted by the General Board.” In this regard the General Secretary has the same obligation as the employee of any other board.

For those who differ with this, their complaint is with the General Board, not the General Secretary. Ask the General Board to “retire” the offending policies/resolutions or to give the General Secretary other instructions.

Some have asked “why now?” The better questions are “Why not now?” or “Why not three years ago?” This denomination is dis-integrating. It would be irresponsible for a leader not to address one of the leading causes of that disintegration, even if its very mention is offensive to some.

There is no simple resolution for our differences, and it is not fair to ask the General Secretary to pretend that there is. Susan, I know you don’t like to talk about “irreconcilable differences.” For me, it is also an extremis position. But I am persuaded that for some among us the differences are irreconcilable. Many of us have believed for some time that the only way forward would involve losing some from both extremes. I lament that. I lament the dozen churches that have already left my region, the thirty others that have threatened, and the even larger number that has disengaged. I lament 80 churches that left as reported at the last General Board meeting. I lament all the churches of the Pacific Southwest. I lament those departures even when I have not agreed with them.

But it is time. It is time for those of us who are trying to define and claim a middle (if there is such a thing) to stand up and say “Enough is enough!” If your goal in denominational life is to purge every last homosexual person (or their supporter) from every corner of the denomination so there is absolute purity (at least on this issue), then you will probably be disappointed. If your goal in denominational life is the universal affirmation of homosexual intimacy, guaranteed portability of ordination, and implicit permission, if not blessing, by the General Board, then you will also probably be disappointed. There are a lot of things between those two lines to work on. We choose to believe our General Secretary is making a sincere effort. We choose to stand with him and work with him. And we promise that when we can’t we will quietly leave and let the rest of you fight about the leftovers.