Yesterday the delegates from the PSW churches voted 1125 to 209 to advise the board of the region to withdraw from the denominational body - the American Baptist Churches of the USA. As that is consonant with the boards original position, it is virtually a done deal and on May 11, the board will certainly vote to withdraw from ABCUSA.
I attended the meeting and frankly felt ill at the whole endeavor. As a representative, I was chosen to vote "yes" and it stuck in my craw. A minority of our congregation had expressed the opinion that PSW should withdraw... and be gone with them.
My guess is that some other conservative factions will watch what happens to the new organization that is formed by the PSW leaders and if they feel it is being successful, more groups and probably regions will follow. ABC will look very different in a short while than it does today. But what will it look like?
There will be some who will bend over backwards to keep more factions from leaving. We have already seen the beginnings of this path in the addition of a sexuality and marriage statement to the identity document We Are American Baptists. If this continues, we will find ourselves moving further and further away from our tradition and losing any reason we have for existing.
On the other hand, if the leadership of ABCUSA sees this as an opportunity to reassert our identity and to trumpet those core values loud and clear, I believe we will find ourselves in a good position. I believe we must reassert those core values of soul freedom, congregational autonomy, the authority of scripture over any specific group or individual's interpretation, and separation of church and state. I believe that is a congregational foundation that will speak to the changes in our culture. I believe that is a metastory that fits the direction our culture is moving and offers the hope of the gospel of Jesus in a changing world. (I am a true believer here folks!)
Will it happen? Will it happen in time? I don't know. It may be that ABC will disappear that the movement of true Baptists will take another shape or even disappear entirely. I hope not. If it is to continue, it will take serious leadership that is willing to step up and stand up for Baptist principles.