Wednesday, March 01, 2006

ministerial ethics... again

As the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest continues its move towards withfdrawing from the covenant with the larger denomination, the question has been raised how the code of ethics signed by every clergy person in the region applies.

the code states: I will hold in trust the traditions and practices of our American Baptist Churches; I will not accept a position in the American Baptist family unless I am in accord with those traditions and practices; nor will I use my influence to alienate my congregation/constituents or any part thereof from its relationship and support of the denomination. If my convictions change, I will resign my position.

In the FAQ sent out by the regions office the question is framed as such: If the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA, will its pastors be in violation of The Covenant and the Code of Ethics for Professional Church Leaders of The American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.? The answer to this question is of course, "no." As the regions FAQ says, any body has the right to withdraw from the covenant at any time. That includes regions and individual churches. But the wording of the question makes it a straw man and misses the point of the critique. The code of ethics does not speak to the actions of the region or of the particular churches. It speaks to the actions of the individual church leader - pastor or regional staff person. And it provides a remedy for this current situation - when a church leader disagrees with ABCUSA, rather than using their position to influence their congregation/constituents to leave ABC, they will resign. Notice it does not only say congregations. This is clearly meant to include regional and national staff, missionaries, etc. and other ordained leaders in the denominational family.

One friend asked me whether the code of ethics trumps authority of scripture. Again, the question is a straw man. Nowhere does the code touch on that question. Indeed, if one believes that ABC has discarded authority of scripture as a core value, the code provides an out - resign. Move to another body that holds the same beliefs as you.

It is a question of integrity here. If a person has signed an ethics document - for all intents and purposes, a contract stating how they will behave in the larger family - and does not abide by it, they have no integrity.

So how does this all apply here? Yes, PSW can withdraw, but any staff person providing leadership or encouragement to do so is in violation of the code that he has signed. Yes, individual churches can withdraw from ABC. Any pastor providing leadership heading in that direction is in violation of the code that he or she has signed.


Dennis E. McFadden said...


Much as I hate to admit it, I believe you have a point. When, over the past quarter of a century, we have asked ordination candidates what they would do if they felt the ABCUSA had strayed from its doctrinal moorings, the "right" answer was always understood to be: "I would resign from my office and allow the congregation to decide for itself what the most honorable and faithful course of action would be."

Quite honestly, not serving in a local parish, the issue does not hit me so existentially. However, I do agonize for those finding themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Dale is a good and Godly man. I really need to read his answer more carefully before interacting more substantively with you (and when the jet lag from my all night flight to Munich wears off!).

Roy, maybe you have heard me raise the irony in all of this. Because Atherton's board has taken NO action to withdraw from affiliation with the ABCUSA, I am technically eligible for all of my non-contractual benefits from MMBB. However, if an associate pastor is "loyal" to ABC but serves in a congregation where the senior pastor or board has lead the congregation to withdraw, he/she would be ineligible for non-contractual MMBB benefits. After all of my blogging offending the folks, imagine ME be in good standing while a loyal ABCer is outside the "Thank You" checks, emergency grants, educational grants for minors of deceased members, etc.!!!

More later,


Anonymous said...

Its not a violation of ethics when the denomination leaves its original position. The denomination has left me. In fact its in violation of its own ethics

roy said...

you'd have to give some evidence as to how ABC has left its original position...

when I joined ABC in 1975 while a student at Eastern Baptst Seminary it was precisely because of a commitment to diversity of beliefs, soul freedom, local church autonomy, inclusivity - all of which were taught in Baptist history & polity classes (Norman Marring was my prof for those classes)and where part of the fabric of the institution. That mix struck me as very different from other denominations and spoke to me as the most accurate representation of the way God was working in the Church. I don't see a different commitment now. If anything, I see a softening of that commitment as evidenced in the statement added to "We Are American Baptists."