Tuesday, March 02, 2010

More Thoughts on the PBA-CTBA Merger

Today (3/2) I had an opportunity to sit down with four members of our PBA Associational Leadership Team and the PBA's two lead staff members to discuss the issues I raised in the previous meeting and here. I want to say how grateful I am for these men to take the time to meet with me. None of us have time for this stuff, it is nowhere near the most important thing on any of our agendas, but clashes that were probably more personality driven than information driven gave urgency to it, and much good was done in today's meeting.

First, I am relieved to know that there ARE answers to my questions. No doubt about it at this point, my questions have answers. It was acknowledged by all present that it is not necessary for everyone to be satisfied by the answers given, but there are answers. It was admitted that the Leadership Team should have had this information available at the previous meeting. I was assured that they had the information, but did not have it prepared for that meeting. I was also assured that in future listening/dialogue sessions, this information will be available.

Second, some of the questions I posed deal with hard and fast numerical data. I am glad to report that this data is available in precise form. A financial analysis has been prepared which details how much the PBA will be required to pay at the time of the merger, estimated monthly income from CTBA churches (conservatively based on an estimate of how many churches will participate in the PBA and to what degree), and the financial obligations the PBA will incur following the merger. This financial document is a wonder to behold, and had it been presented at the previous meeting, several of my questions would have been answered, and much of my fears relieved. I hope that the PBA leaders will share this document in print at the next two listening sessions.

Third, one of my questions was based on an assumption that I made in the past. When the restructuring of the PBA occurred, I was reminded that the language used was never specifically tied to Greensboro or the Greater Greensboro area, but to "our community." This is accurate to the best of my recollection. My assumption (which I think was quite natural) was to interpret "our community" to mean the Greater Greensboro area, and I did not entertain the possibility that it may be broadened to mean another major metro area. While I still think that common sense would have indicated "our community" in 2008 to mean the Greater Greensboro area, I must admit that this was an assumption on my part. By "the letter of the law" nothing in the restructure would forbid the PBA from broadening its scope to High Point, though some of us may continue to disagree over "the spirit of the law" in this case.

Fourth, in my previous article, I indicated that the new vision of the PBA only existed "on paper," and that we had not seen any tangible results from it. In our meeting today, I was given a list of several events and efforts that are said to be the direct result of the new vision. My suggestion to the PBA leaders was that in the future, they should publicize these "wins" and try to demonstrate how the new structure enabled that to happen with greater effectiveness than it could have under the old system.

Fifth, concerning a "doctrinal test," here I think that I have been misrepresented by some parties. Some have suggested that I am of this certain breed of Southern Baptists who wants the circle to be drawn smaller and smaller. My issue is not on the size of the circle but on the existence of the circle. I simply want to know, to what doctrinal standard will the churches of the PBA be held: that goes for those who are already in the PBA, those who come in by way of the merger, and those who come in (or go out) by any other way. Today I was assured that the CTBA has a doctrinal statement, and that this is the "standard" by which incoming churches are evaluated. Not that there will be an evaluation, it is merely assumed that a church that doesn't uphold that doctrinal statement would not want to be aligned with the CTBA or the PBA. Based on many experiences and observations, I might suggest that this is a dangerous assumption, but at least the question has been answered.

When it comes to the rest of the questions I have asked, the answers boil down to opinion. All sides recognize this. Does the merger violate autonomy? I think it does. The Leadership Team thinks it does not. We agree to disagree. They assert that the vote of the majority to merge and the right of the church to disassociate is a sufficient safeguard of autonomy. I disagree. I think it forces the exercise of autonomy to be a negative action rather than a positive one. By default, if the vote is affirmative, a church who votes against the merger becomes a participant in the merger and has the burden of removing itself from the new organization to which it never desired to belong in the first place. I firmly believe that the default option should be for the church to be unaffiliated, then allowing for the free exercise of autonomy to initiate fellowship in the association. The degree to which this is a "big deal" is also a matter of opinion. Some Baptists don't even like the idea of autonomy (as one person recently said to me, "Autonomy is what sucks about being Baptist"), some consider it a minor issue, and some (like myself) consider it a major issue.

In the end there are two matters on the table to be examined in deciding what is best for these two associations. One will be preserved and the other sacrificed. One is the collected assets of the CTBA and the other is the autonomy of the CTBA's churches. I would rather preserve the autonomy and sacrifice the assets, although I am sure that I am in the minority. Yet when I consider the historic roots of our movement, that tiny band of persecuted Swiss Brethren, who owned no property, possessed no assets, but survived upon their biblical convictions of autonomous congregations of regenerated and baptized believers, I am compelled to align myself as I have on this matter. For that reason I remain opposed to the merger.

Tonight, the CTBA will meet to vote on their end of the merger. The outcome of that vote is crucial. Should the messengers decide to not go through with the merger, then all of this has been for nothing. The process ends with that vote. But, if 100% of the CTBA churches are represented and the vote is unanimous, my concerns about autonomy will be somewhat alleviated. I have participated in Baptist life enough to know better than to expect that to happen. [** I have received word from someone who attended that meeting that there were around 50-60 messengers present (I don't know how many of the 37 CTBA churches they represented), and the vote passed with only two opposed, and no observable number of abstentions. **]

Finally, I must take responsibility for my own words that stand in "virtual print" here in my previous article. Though I made an effort to say that this was not about a personal distrust of PBA Leadership, I am aware that my heart is deceitfully wicked, and utterly unknowable even to myself. If what I have said has caused others to distrust these men, whom I believe are godly Christian brothers, I am truly sorry. With some regret, however, I must add to that apology that the failure of PBA Leaders to adequately prepare themselves for questions I believed should be easy to answer, the somewhat hurried timeline of the process (as it pertains to us as pastors and messengers), the appearance of artful dodging, and the responses of ad hominem retorts, emotional appeals, and spiritualized trumping in the meeting and in subsequent dialogues did suggest that there may be reason for distrust. I am happy to conclude by saying that for the most part, the ad hominem retorts have been addressed, and the answers have now been brought to light. I want to say on record that if there was ever any distrust or suspicion of underhandedness, these have been resolved now, and for that I am grateful. While I regret the way in which some of my comments and questions were received, I do not apologize for raising the issues here on my blog, for I feel that if I hadn't done so, I would not have received the information I now have, and awareness of the issues would not have been raised.

I look forward to sharing the specific answers to my questions with IBC's messengers and encourage all PBA and CTBA pastors and messengers to attend the information sessions and voting meetings to ask questions, push for answers, and to vote their Spirit-controlled consciences on the matter.

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